Museo de los Origines (Casa de San Isidro). It just gets more and more complicated.

Well, it exists.  I knew that already, but I just needed to get inside.  The Casa de los Origines (The Mseum of Origins) is located in the La Latina neighborhood and it was once and still is sometimes called the Casa de San Isidro (House of Saint Isidro) though it never was his house, nor is there a full-fledged confirmation that he ever lived there.  Tradition has it.  But Tradition has a lot of things, believe you me.   The building belonged to the Vargas family where it was thought that Saint Isidro and his wife Saint Mary de la Cabeza, lived shortly having their son Illán, which apparently is a variation of Julian.   Are you still with me?   

        Illán was the little boy who fell out of Maria’s arms and into the depths of the well in the home.  After minutes of immense tension and prayer, the water level rose to the top and the boy appeared unharmed (evening smiling according to some, though I doubt we have any reliable eyewitness reports).  One story goes that as a result of the miracle the couple moved apart and lived in different homes for spiritual reasons (or possibly because they didn’t know how to tell the kid the truth).  It goes on to say that the boy died before reaching adulthood.

        Not so! Say other sources.  Just last week I mentioned that this couple stood out in the annals of holiness for being a rare case in which both members of the married couple ended up becoming Saints.  Normally in real life, it is just one of the spouses.  This extraordinary situation did not end there.  Their son went on to be a saint too, which should not come as a surprise considering his upbringing.  My question is: is there anything this family did wrong? 

      Now if digging up good facts about San Isidro is a near impossibility, and even less can be found about Maria de la Cabeza, you can forget San Illán.  We already know that there’s a chance he didn’t survive his youth, but assuming that he did, quite possibly he was never even canonized.  He wouldn’t have been the first.  But that doesn’t mean that he is not venerated.  There is a town in Toledo called Cebolla (which translates as Onion), where there is a hermitage.  A hermitage is a church outside a town.  There used to be a small village surrounding it too but the last resident left years ago.  The hermitage is dedicated to San Illán.  Several miracles are attributed to him. 

        I didn’t enter the museum to find out about San Illán.  I didn’t even expect to find out what I did.  On the inside it has a modern-looking set-up which can be divided into two parts.  The first floor centers on San Isidro and Santa María de la Cabeza.  You can see a small chapel, several facsimiles of the codex which recounts his life, historical objects and several magnificent models of some of Madrid’s oldest churches.  They made me jealous.  You see, in addition to wanting to be a solo-guitarist for Lynyrd Skynyrd, a painter, an owner of a fine country restaurant and a Zamboni driver, I have always wanted to make a living building models and I envy those who do to such a degree that, if I were ever to meet one, I could not guarantee their safety. 

         The highlight of the first floor is the site of the well where the miracle was said to have taken place.  Whether to believe or not, it is still a nice old well to look at, water and all, but no baby. 

         Upstairs takes through the ages of this city from prehistoric times, meaning we get to see real mammoth tusks and all.  One of the earliest human remains is there too.  It’s a molar.  And it is on display.  I like a museum which displays molars.  It says they have character. 

         The different rooms take you through the different periods of the city all they way up to the 17th Century (with some more models that tantalize you) and then it abruptly ends.  Some of the rooms were roped off, so I am sure there is more.  I will have to return.

       The good points are that it is small, manageable and free.  But it helps to have some knowledge of the history of Madrid and a decent level of Spanish since none of the information comes in English.  Give it a shot.

Madrid’s Day Off – Why? Part 1

Here’s the thing: Madrid has a local holiday.  Why?  The answer is easy; what isn’t easy is finding someone from Madrid who knows it. 

         Why?  Getting a straight a reliable explanation isn’t that simple either, but here’s what I think: because the honoree is an obscure religious figure from this city’s past and the decision to dedicate a day off to this person a vestige from a time when all holidays had to be created on some Christian basis.  It’s also what we call a back-up holiday.  In other words, Madrid needs 14 holidays a year.  When the main celebrations fall on a Sunday it never occurs to anyone to make an observance day on Monday.  They just say, “Tough luck.”

        Instead, what they do is that they resort to second level holidays to step in for the others when needed. 

        Allow me to put you out of your misery and divulge.  The name of our celebrated individual was a woman named Santa María de la Cabeza – which literally translates as St. Mary of the Head.  Knock off the wisecracks; this is a saint for Christ’s sake.  But yes, I will agree that the second of the name does stand out for its unusualness, though not half as much as the fact that most people inMadridhave never thought of it as so.  When you hear it for the first time, you laugh and point it out them and they start to chuckle themselves saying that they had never thought about that before. 

        “You’ve never thought about that before?  What if I went around telling people my name was Brian of the Toe?  Wouldn’t that strike them as out of the ordinary?  Wouldn’t the people from Madrid want to ask the same of their own saint?” 

        Obviously not.  These cultural oddities crop up all over the place, and in the States there are plenty.  In Sweden, for example, the issue is the color of their houses.  They are all red.  And the Swedes don’t know it.  I know this because when they give you directions they say things like, “Go down the road a mile or so and when you see a red house, turn left.”  Somehow, they are able to distinguish that one from the 30 other red houses you pass on the way.  Either that or they only see the redness in the ones they are looking for.         

        Something to that effect is what I think we have here…a tendency to add silly appendages to the Virgin Mary without any regard for how ludicrous it sounds.  You have the Virgin Mary of the O, I’m dead serious, or the Virgin Mary of the Pillar, which gets her name from the fact that Saint James witnessed her appearance in Zaragoza in 40AD during his travels through Spain…doubly miraculous considering he probably never set foot in this country, by the way.  Anyway, the story goes Mary appeared to him in one of his lowest moments when he felt he would never get the pagan world to convert to Christianity.  She gave him a column with a statue of her on the top in hopes it would instill renewed inspiration in him and his followers, and asked that a church be built in that very spot.  It was and today is known as the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar and it one of the most sacred temples inSpain.  Saint Mary of the Pillar is also the patroness of Spain. 

         That explains that Virgin Mary.  But who was Saint Mary of the Head?  Patience.  I’ll be back.