According to legend, a statue of the Virgin of Almudena was preserved inside Madrid’s defensive wall in anticipation of an imminent Moorish attack in the year 712. Some time later, in the 11th century, the city was reconquered by Christian troops under the command of Alfonso VI who immediately got to work trying to recover the statue, not knowing the exact location where it had been hidden. After several days of prayer, a group of people was passing by the Cuesta de la Vega (near a former al-mudanya, or Muslim citadel) when a section of the wall cracked, exposing the niche that held the figure of the Virgin. It had remained intact through the centuries and was lit by two candles which were still burning. Since then, the Virgin of Almudena has been the patron saint of Madrid. Today the statue can be seen inside Almudena Cathedral.
The day of the Virgin of Almudena is one of the Spanish capital’s major festivals, a celebration with an authentic feel in which religious events go hand in hand with less traditional recreational activities. In the morning an offering of flowers takes place, followed by a solemn mass in honor of Madrid’s patron saint. Then the statue of the Virgin is taken out to the streets for a procession around the main streets of the city center in a route that runs between Plaza Mayor and Plaza de la Almudena. All day long, downtown Madrid is full of chulapos and chulapas, and it’s not unusual to see many of the locals dressed in the traditional garb of their city. A more modern addition is the Castañas y Buñuelos Festival, established in 2014, which aims to reinvent the concept of the verbena with a high-quality selection of contemporary music.