In the 13th century, Spain was under Muslims rule. The town of Atocha, a now-lost district nearby Madrid was lost to the Muslims and many Christians there were taken prisoners as spoils of war. The Christians were placed on strict punishments and prohibitions, and the devout prisoners were denied food by their captors. According to legend, only children under the age of 12 were permitted to bring them food. The women of Atocha knew that most of the people in the prison, mostly their relatives and friends could not truly survive under such harsh conditions. As a result, the women prayed before the statue of Our Lady of Atocha at a nearby parish, a title under the Blessed Virgin Mary to ask her son Jesus Christ for aid and help.
Reports soon began among the people of Atocha that a child under the age of twelve had begun to bring food to childless prisoners. The child was dressed in pilgrim’s clothing yet could not be identified as to the name of the child or its origins.
When the women of Atocha heard of the child, they returned to Our Lady of Atocha and thanked the Virgin for her intercession. Looking upon the image of the Virgin, they noticed that the shoes worn by the Infant Jesus statue held by Our Lady of Atocha were tattered and dusty. Customarily, the shoes of the child Jesus were constantly replaced but were soiled once again. The people of Atocha interpreted this as a sign that the infant Jesus went out every night to help those in need which later developed into a devotional Roman Catholic practice.
(inspired by L. Pena)