It’s funny to imagine that an entire city of 3.5 million people has a day off and so few know why they don’t have to get up and go to work. All they know is that they don’t have to and that’s what that counts. But now that we know this day is in honor of a woman named Santa María de la Cabeza, let’s find out who she was.
Maria is well-known, well…known at least, for being the wife of Isidro Labrador, who himself was canonized. That forms quite a couple. Imagine having them over for dinner and talking about mortgages. Isidro is actually the more famous of the two. He went on to become the patron saint of Madrid and we celebrate his day on May 15th. Maria lost the chance to be patroness to the Virgin of the Almudena, whose feast is on November 9th. Still, she subs for them if one of those feasts falls on a Sunday.
Though born in Guadalajara, Maria lived in Torrelaguna (a town in the province of Madrid) where she met her future husband as he fled from the moors who had taken over Madrid. They moved back and later had a child. One of the great miracles connected to them took place in the home they were living in the center of the capital (now a museum) when their son fell into a well. As she pleaded for her husband to help, the water level of the well rose all the way up to the top, allowing them to save the babe. They continued their lives as humble servants of God until Isidro died in 1177.
She outlived Isidro. It was after his death that her importance has a miracle worker increased; almost as if marriage had hindered her spiritual talents. Maria died some time around 1180. And not much more can be said about her except for that she was eventually beatified.
None of this of course explains why she acquired the screwball distinction “de la Cabeza”. It appears that this came later when her head was used as a relic for the same church where she would worship. Hence the name, St. Mary of the Head. I don’t know about you, but I think there are better ways of treating the dead body of such a pious woman. Or of any person. And it’s one thing to refer to her informally as a way of distinguish her from the Virgin Mary by calling “the Mary whose chopped off head you can see next to the altar”, it’s another thing to make it stick officially. I think I’m going to have to do some more research. A finger or a bone as a relic may be, but en entire head? Then again, how else would you get a name like that?
The remains were exhumed and placed in a tomb in the Colegiata de San Isidro. The old hermitage in Torrelaguna so closely linked to her is currently in ruins. They name a holiday after her, but the heritage society has fallen short of preserving her past.