The Romería de San Isidro, one of the most popular and colourful celebrations on the festive calendar, takes place on May 14th and 15th. San Isidro (Saint Isidore) is the patron saint of farmers, and many villages celebrate with processions through the fields/streets and a grand fiesta.
The statue of San Isidro normally resides in the Ermita de San Isidro in the grounds of the Nerja Caves, but for the celebrations the statue is brought to the town just before the event and then makes its ceremonial journey back to its home in the company of thousands of ‘pilgrims’.
In Nerja, it all starts on the evening of May 14th with a big party at the Nerja Caves, near Maro, which tends to go on until the next morning! There’s music, dancing, bars galore and stalls and stands selling food of all types.
On May 15th, proceedings begin at 11:00 with a Mass at the El Salvador church on the Balcón de Europa and, after homage is paid to the farmers of the area, the procession begins its long, slow journey up to the Nerja Caves.
The procession is made up of horse riders clad in traditional costume, carriages, carts pulled by teams of magnificent oxen, floats of all shapes and sizes and thousands of people on foot.
The procession wends its way slowly to the Nerja Caves, basically up calle Pintada and then following the main road (N-340 coastal road). The statue of the Patron Saint tends to arrive at the Caves around 14:00, but it will be several hours after that before the stragglers arrive. At a certain time, the procession will usually stretch all the way from the Nerja Caves to the Balcón de Europa, a distance of over four kilometres.
And then it’s party time again! Although there is plenty of food and drink available, it is one of those times when many families take their own picnics and barbecues, enjoying a leisurely meal in the sun.
The Council usually puts on a special bus service which constantly runs back and forth between the Caves and Nerja town.
St. Isidore the Farmer
Isidore was born in Madrid in 1070 to poor, yet pious Catholic parents who, unable to support him, sent him to work for a wealthy landowner, John de Vergas, with whom he remained for his entire life.
He married a very religious woman by the name of Maria Torribia, also known as Maria de la Cabeza, and she, like Isidore, later became a saint. Isidore and Maria had one son who, unfortunately, died unexpectedly as an infant. However, their grief inclined them to believe that their son’s death was a sign from God and they vowed to live a life of perfect continence.
Isidore frequented Holy Mass every morning, something which invariably made him late for his work in the fields. Despite this regular tardiness, it was said that his plowing was ‘accomplished by angels’ and resulted in three times more productivity, something his co-workers and his boss are said to have witnessed and, as a consequence, Isidore was accorded great respect.
The ‘miracle of the multiplication of food’ occurred on two occasions, once when Isidore fed a flock of starving birds and once again when he shared his food with a large group of beggars. At a parish dinner, Isidore arrived early and went into the church to pray. However, when he eventually arrived at the parish hall, he was not only late but had brought with him a large group of beggars.
The parishioners were understandably upset, worried in case there wasn’t enough food to go round. But the more they filled up their plates, the more there was for everybody else. St. Isidore told them, ‘There is always enough for the poor of Jesus.’
Isidore died on May 15, in the year 1120 at the age of 60 years and was canonized by Pope Gregory XV in March 1622 along with four other very notable Spanish saints. The group, known as ‘the five saints’, included St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila, St. Francis Xavier, St. Phillip Neri, and St. Isidore. His memorial is celebrated on May 15th according to the Roman Calendar.
St. Isidore is known as the patron of Madrid, as well as León, Zaragoza, and Sevilla. He is also considered the patron saint of farmers, peasants, day laborers, and rural communities. He is also the patron saint of the United States National Rural Life Conference.