The Treasures of Seville

by Melvin Leavitt

Associate Editor

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    The gospel shines bright in southern Spain

    Andalusia has many jewels—Córdoba, Granada, Málaga—real-life cities with names like echoes out of fairytales. And beyond the cities are strings of white towns and villages gleaming in the Andalusian sun on many a hilltop beneath many a castle. But none of the jewels of Andalusia flashes brighter than the sunny city on the Guadalquivir River, the city known in the English-speaking world as Seville, and in Spain as Sevilla. The city and the name have inspired the creative artists of many nations, giving us, among others, Don Juan Tenorio, Carmen, and the Barber of Seville.

    Seville is a city of many treasures. It was to Seville that the great golden galleons came floating home under their white sails, freighted with gold and silver and dreams of empire. Seville is a city of orange trees and pomegranates, of flowered balconies, great bullfighters, and the lovely, heartbreaking strains of flamenco. Seville, where the Guadalquivir runs in solemn beauty toward the sea, where Cervantes’ body lay in prison while his spirit roamed free across the wide plains of La Mancha. Seville of wine and bulls and beautiful women. Seville of poets and painters, of proud Andalusian horsemen and sunny patios, of a thousand crystal fountains, the rumor of water, and laughter like silver, where every turning has its secrets and its history.

    Its history is one of pomp and splendor and conquest. When the Romans conquered it in 205 B.C., it was known as Hispalis and was already a thriving town. It repaid Rome well for its trouble, providing two of the Empire’s most illustrious emperors. Later, barbarians from north of the Pyrenees swept southward to power, only to be supplanted by Moorish armies crossing the Strait of Gilbralter from North Africa. Culturally enriched by each succeeding invasion, Seville came to be a city of layer on subtle layer and faces behind faces, a city with mysteries always in reserve, a city no one can see to the bottom of.

    And always its mystique and splendor grew. Under the Moors it was a dazzling place where, as one Moslem historian said, “if one asked for the milk of birds, it would be found.”

    But the Moors too gave way, this time to the Christian reconquest. Reconquered in 1248 by King Fernando the Holy, it served as the residence for him and his successor, King Pedro the Cruel, who dwelt in splendor in the halls and gardens of the Reales Alcázares, the palace of the Christian kings.

    Thus Seville was a city well accustomed to receiving both treasure and conquerors when the greatest treasure of all came to Spain not many years ago, borne by young conquerors in white shirts. There were Sevillanos ready to receive this treasure, and the city that had known emperors and caliphs and kings soon became home to a new and more eternal kind of royalty, men who bore the priesthood of God.

    The Saints of Seville are rich in the treasure of love, love for the Saints, the city, and for people everywhere. They love to meet together to share this love and strengthen one another.

    One warm day in spring, some of the young people got together for a talk and a walk. They met in front of the cathedral, the third largest Christian church in the world, where a fountain splashed and horses and buggies waited to carry tourists around the city. They gazed up at la giralda, the famous cathedral tower, first built as the minaret of a Moslem mosque in 1184. Now, with its bell tower and weather vane which were added later by the Christians, it represents one of the most treasured landmarks in Spain. After visiting the cathedral, the group went to the nearby Reales Alcázares to relive the days of Fernando the Holy and Pedro the Cruel. Then they walked on through the picturesque Santa Cruz district, down narrow, winding streets, between whitewashed walls where flowers bloomed in every balcony, and past many a sun-splashed, green-filled patio behind iron grills.

    Next they headed for the Plaza de España. Their path took them past numerous small, shady parks, each with its gazebos and its fountains and its leafy retreats. They crossed wide, busy streets and walked by great public buildings. When they arrived at the Plaza de España, it was obvious why it gives them pride. It is a broad semicircle of towers, brick walkways, lovely pools and bridges, and ceramic tile tributes to each of Spain’s provinces.

    Continuing on, they took a leisurely walk through María Luisa Park, relaxed among its sunken gardens, and admired its statues and its greenery. They could have visited any of several museums and expositions there, but today they just felt like walking and relaxing. At one small plaza they bought small sacks of bread crumbs and were immediately covered in a deep snowfall of white doves.

    Singing and laughing, they returned along the banks of the Guadalquivir, a wide, dignified river lined with stone quays, walkways, benches, shrubbery and flowers. As they walked along, they watched oarsmen competing at midstream and young men courting their girls in rowboats while old men fished along the banks with long cane poles.

    They came at last to the Golden Tower, the twelve-sided Moorish landmark that once held one end of a river-blocking chain. There they stopped for a little impromptu flamenco. Some sang, some clapped, and some danced. They lacked only a guitar to make the scene complete, but so expert was their dancing that an imaginary guitar could be heard playing in the background behind the blood-stirring songs that combine the gypsy lament with the haunting call of the Moslem muezzin.

    Finally they returned to the cathedral. In the court of the Orange Trees (once the courtyard of the mosque, now of the cathedral) they sat beneath the fragrant trees and shared their feelings about the gospel.

    A girl named Laura said, “I have always been a great seeker of happiness. I have always been looking for ‘something more’ in life. I investigated several religions as part of my search, and although I met many good people, I didn’t find the truth I was looking for. Then a friend told me that two Americans were going to speak on religion in his home, and something told me I had to go listen. There were ten of us who went. After a while only five of us were left, and then only three. Finally, I was the only one to be baptized. I am the only member of my family who is in the Church.

    “I have been a member for three years now and am very happy. The Church has given me everything. One thing about the Mormons that impressed me from the start was the great love and union they felt for one another. Now I am working in the Church with all my might. One must work in the Church, but the blessings are many, much greater than the sacrifices. Although my family aren’t Mormons, I have seen a radical change in them. The Spirit has helped them very much. I too have changed greatly. Even my friends have changed. Some who had no respect for me before now do. I am very happy. I know that the Church is true without any doubt in my heart because I have seen the hand of the Lord many times in my life, and he always testifies to my heart that everything the Church teaches is true.”

    Yolanda said, “I have been baptized a very short time. I came home from school one day and found two missionaries waiting for me. At first I was unwilling to listen to them, but finally I took a seat and listened, and I began to hear with faith the things they were saying. I was amazed that anyone could be so sure of anything as they were of their message. I began to feel that my life was changing. I was happier than before. One day I amazed myself by going to the chapel when I could have gone out with my friends. I had never given up a chance to go out with my friends in order to go to a church. I felt at home in the chapel. I felt happy. At the end of the week I told the missionaries that I would be baptized. The day of my baptism was marvelous. I will never forget it. I felt that this was the true church and that I was doing right in being baptized.”

    Francisco spoke frankly of a sad journey and a sweet homecoming. “I was away from the Church for some time,” he said, “and I thought I was happy, but it wasn’t as it seemed. Within myself, I was asking questions over and over: ‘Why do you smoke? Why do you drink? Why do you do these things if you know they are harming you?’ I didn’t know why. I wasn’t spiritually happy. I wasn’t free. I was, as it were, sick. I didn’t know what to do. I didn’t know how to go about finding again the happiness that I had had previously. I wanted to go back to church, but shame kept me away for a time.

    “One day I finally just got on my bicycle and started out for the church without further delay. I was determined to start going back no matter what. When I got there, it seemed as if everyone was waiting for me. As soon as they saw me, they became very happy and received me with open arms. It was as if I was in my own home. I found that this was truly where I belonged. I found again the happiness that I had been looking for. It was better than ever. Since then I have felt so joyful that right now I can still feel the Spirit I felt then, a very deep happiness. I was away from the Church for six months, six months without happiness.”

    Mary Carmen said, “I first learned about the Church when two missionaries came tracting through our block. We were very active in another church, but we couldn’t feel the Spirit of the Lord the way we can feel it now. The day before the missionaries came, my mother had been praying that the gospel might enter our home more fully, but she certainly didn’t expect it to be delivered by two Mormon missionaries! I know that the Church is true. I have no doubts. I feel I am the happiest person in the world. I love every person here today because I know that you are all my brothers and sisters. I want the whole world to be happy.”

    There is a special bond between Mary Carmen and three others in the group because she helped to bring them into the Church. She had begun by talking about the Church to her friend María del Pilar and María’s sisters Isabel and Loly. Unbeknown to her, her mother ran into María’s mother in the doctor’s office, and although they were complete strangers, began telling her about the Church. The two conversion factors merged; the family accepted the missionaries into their home and were baptized within 13 days of beginning the discussions.

    “I shared the gospel with Pili (María del Pilar) and Isabel and Loly because they are my friends and I love them,” Mary Carmen said. “I wanted them to be able to feel the presence of the Spirit and enjoy the rich blessings from the Lord that I do. When they were baptized, I was so happy that no one could stand me at school for a few days. It made me remember the day of my own baptism.”

    Isabel said of the experience from her point of view, “It is a great blessing to know the truth of the gospel of our Father in Heaven. We children, my parents, and the whole family have changed greatly. Before we joined the Church we were almost destroyed as a family. Since we joined the Church, all that has changed. We are more united than before. Being the oldest of the children, I can see that there is more love and tenderness in our family. I want to bear my testimony that I know this church is true and the Book of Mormon too, and that there are prophets today. I am very happy that I know Mary Carmen and her mother. They are very good people, very good friends. I love them very much. Mary Carmen is another sister to me.”

    Her sister María del Pilar said, “I have a testimony that this is the true church, and I am very happy to be here. My whole family has changed since we joined the Church. My father drank too much, and since we have been in the Church we have been very happy in my family, and my father doesn’t touch wine. We seem to be much more united. I love family home evening. I like everything about the Church, but the unity within our own family is the best thing. We love each other and treat each other kindly. Even though the kids in my school won’t have anything to do with me since I joined the Church, I am very happy to be in it. I wouldn’t leave it for anything.”

    She added, “There were two or three weeks when we stopped going to church. I don’t know how my sister felt, but I felt as if something was lacking physically. I didn’t feel well until I returned to church, and now I am happy to be here with all my brothers and sisters in the gospel.”

    They reported that after their baptism, many of the neighbors snubbed their family but that they felt the same as their father, who said, “We are not offended when they will not speak to us. We are glad to give them our ‘good morning’ and get none in return. We know that tomorrow or the next day or next year, they will notice the day-and-night change that has come in our family, and they will begin coming to us. But for now we are the ones who must offer what we have to them, because they are ignorant, and we are the ones who have to declare the gospel to them. They are like blind men, or men who walk around with their eyes blindfolded. We must remove every bandage from their eyes. It is an honor to be able to imitate the Savior in this small way. He was rejected far worse than we, and he loved those who persecuted him.”

    The group talked about how their friends had accepted their membership. Some reported being rejected or ridiculed by their friends, neighbors, and teachers at school. Others did not, but all agreed that no price was too high to pay for what the gospel had brought into their lives.

    They recognized that their challenges were not at an end. Juan, a priest, was about to enter the army. “It will not be easy to maintain Church standards in the military,” he said, “but I believe that through many prayers I can do it. I do not intend to isolate myself from others who do not share my standards or to try to appear better than they are. But when one of them offers me a cigarette, I will ask for a stick of chewing gum instead. I want to teach the gospel to them.” He felt that the priesthood he bears will be a real help in difficult circumstances. “I don’t believe that anyone who holds the priesthood could possibly ask for anything more. We must be faithful and steadfast in this great calling in order to carry the work forward.”

    María Colof spoke briefly of a special experience. “When I was ill,” she said, “my brother went to call the missionaries, but they couldn’t come. But some brothers of the Church came and gave me a blessing of health. By the following day I felt completely well.”

    Then with mutual expressions of love and friendship, the group of young Latter-day Saints parted and, leaving the court of the orange trees, went homeward through the bright and leafy afternoon.

    As they went, strong and young and happy, it was clear that there was yet another group of conquerors in Seville. They would not conquer the city as the Romans, barbarians, Moors, or Christian kings had done, but they would always bless Seville far beyond their numbers because they had made the greatest conquest of all. They had conquered themselves.

    Photos by Melvin Leavitt and James Christensen

    The Cathedral and La Giralda; Santa Cruz district; Plaza de España

    “When I got to the church it seemed as if everyone was waiting for me. As soon as they saw me, they became very happy and received me with open arms. It was as if I was in my own home”—Francisco

    The Golden Tower

    “I have always been a great seeker of happiness. I have always been looking for ‘something more’ in life. The Church has given me everything. One thing about the Mormons that impressed me from the start was the great love and union they felt for one another”—Laura

    Guadalquivir River

    Plaza of the Doves in Maria Luisa Park

    “It will not be easy to maintain Church standards in the military, but I believe that through many prayers I can do it. I do not intend to isolate myself from others who do not share my standards or to try to appear better than they are. But when one of them offers me a cigarette, I will ask for a stick of chewing gum instead. I want to preach the gospel to them”—Juan