Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Saint Isidro and the Woolly Mammoths

Museum of Origins. House of Saint Isidro / Museo de los Orígenes. Casa de San Isidro
1/10/12 – Plaza de San Andr
és, 2
Museum of Origins
The 12th-century farmer and Patron Saint of Madrid, San Isidro, accidentally dropped his baby down a well.  When Isidro prayed for a miracle, the water in the well rose up, delivering the infant unharmed.  The legendary well, or Pozo de San Isidro, is show-cased in a small room of the House of San Isidro.  The connection of this well to Saint Isidro is unclear, since the house at this site actually belonged to Isidro’s master, Juan de Vargas.  The house was rebuilt in the 16th century as a palace, and later served as offices for the Catholic Church.  There are paintings, sculptures and a chapel dedicated to the popular Isidro and his sainted wife, Maria de la Cabeza.* 

Is it or isn't it?

The same building houses the Museum of Origins, which debunks biblical timelines through scientific excavation and study of Madrid’s prehistory.  Numerous archeological sites have been explored along the banks of Madrid’s river, the Manzanares.  The main exhibit begins 500,000 to 120,000 years ago, when aurochs, giant horses and woolly mammoths roamed the area. 

Interactive display, with bones

The first human inhabitants, Homo Heidelbergensis, arrived from Africa about 400,000 years ago, followed by Neaderthals and Homo Sapiens.  They left few bodily remains, but many tools.  The museum interior has been renovated.  A lovely Renaissance style patio and a separate garden area complete the ground-level space.

Courtyard and fountain, Museum of Origins

Upstairs, a temporary exhibit contains a sampling of man-made objects from various periods of Madrid’s development, including a bedroom recreated from the excavation of a 4th c. Roman villa, with the original mosaic floor.  The Museum of Origins is still a work in progress. A second phase of construction promises more exhibits on the history of Madrid, from the first productive societies (9000 – 2100 years ago), Romans and Barbarians (2100-1300 years ago), Islamic Madrid (711-1085 C.E.), and Christian Madrid through the 17th century.
*According to the story, after this miracle, Isidro and Maria vowed sexual abstinence and lived in separate houses.  (Might this be punishment for the egregious mistake of dropping their baby down a well?)

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