Spain: Inscribing a new history

A tapestry of stone embellishes the buildings of this city, silent monuments of bygone centuries.

Carved arches, figures, scrolls - works of both famous and forgotten artists - adorn Madrid's buildings and illustrate its history. Some of the earlier buildings are more than a millennium old and were erected by the Moors in the 9th century. Surrounding these are the works of subsequent centuries - Italian and Spanish Renaissance, Baroque, Romantic and modern.And durable as the buildings are traditions of the people. Although a world treasure of the arts, Madrid provided little room for the Church until recent years. Not until the 1960s, when dictator Francisco Franco began some democratic reforms, did the Church gain a foothold in Spain. The Church has progressed methodically over the past three decades, inscribing as it were a more recent history upon the stonework of centuries past.

Since 1966 with the baptism of Jose Maria Oliveira, the membership has grown to more than 28,000 in four stakes and 17 districts. The highlight of the Church in Spain came last June when President Gordon B. Hinckley broke ground for a temple in the Moratalaz area of Madrid.

The temple, to be white with a single powerful upward spire, will provide as stark a contrast to the opulent edifices of yesteryear as the vitality of the gospel contrasts with timebound traditions.

Brother Oliveira is an attorney and movie casting agent who moved to Salt Lake City in 1989. He encountered the Church in 1959, shortly after spending a year in England where he learned to speak English.

Returning to Madrid, he met and began dating Patricia Wright, a member from Ogden, Utah. She was in Madrid with her brother, David, who worked at the U.S. embassy. American servicemen had begun holding Church meetings in the 1950s, and so she invited the young Spaniard to attend Church services. A progressive dinner followed. He was not interested in the Church, but he enjoyed the dinner. Seven years later, they were both still single and still dating. She gave him a Church book to read. The book The First 2,000 Years by Cleon Skousen, explained the doctrine of pre-existence.

"I just felt in my heart that here was something that could be true," he said. "I started going to Church and at that time, I was the only Spanish person attending there. I attended every Sunday, I liked it very much; I had a testimony. The American servicemen were so wonderful."

He was baptized March 12, 1966, in Bordeaux, France. Three months later, he and Patricia were married. At least two other Spaniards were baptized before he was, but both married Americans and left the country soon afterwards.

By now, a few other Spaniards began attending the American Branch in Madrid. Brother Oliveira started teaching an investigator's class in Spanish in April 1966, and the group slowly grew.

"Then something wonderful happened," said Brother Oliveira. "The Lord knew something that we didn't know. He knew that in a year-and-half, Franco was going to be pressured by the American government to start giving some sort of freedom of religion. One-and-a-half years after I joined the Church, it became legal for existing non-Catholic groups to be recognized. Existing, that is."

Because the group was existing and made up of mostly Spaniards, it qualified for recognition. At that time, there were 50 members in Madrid, 40 of whom were nationals and 10 were Americans employed in Spain. Another group of Americans was meeting in Seville. Among these members was Elder Robert D. Hales of the Quorum of the Twelve, then in Seville as president of the Gillette Co. of Spain.

"By February 1968 - the same month that the Madrid Branch was organized - I applied for and received official permission to meet. Formal recognition followed in October," said Brother Oliveira.

"The American members didn't speak a lot of Spanish but the fellowshipping they gave us was so loving and so kind. Each Sunday morning, they would pick us up in their cars. They had a great desire to bring the gospel to Spain, but they didn't know how to do it, so the Lord did it for them. It was a real miracle. I was just a spectator to it.

"We felt so much love from them. Three of them, West Mediteranean District Pres. Dean Hanger, American Branch Pres. George M. Hall, and Robert Eddington were particularly important to the beginning of the Church in Spain.

Another member, David B. Timmons, a commercial attache in the U.S. embassy, was the first president of the Madrid Branch. Brother Oliveira was his first counselor and a few months later when Pres. Timmins was transferred, Brother Oliveira became the first local president of the Madrid Branch. He was later the first Spain district president and the first president of the Madrid Spain Stake when it was organized March 14, 1982.

Before he joined the Church, Brother Oliveira was director of the William Morris Co., a movie casting agent. About the time of his baptism, he became an independent casting director for American movies filmed in Spain. He helped cast such movies as "Patton" "Dr. Zhivago," "Lawrence of Arabia," and "Nicholas and Alexandria," a movie that included many Church members as extras. He later became a screenplay writer and director and made movies that taught LDS doctrine. Two of these were mis-named to attract more attention: "The Death, The Devil and The Flesh," and "Beware of Darkness." The former depicted two missionaries preaching in the pre-existence and won a prize as the best movie of moral values made in Spain in 1973.

Soon after the Church received legal recognition, Elder Marion G. Romney of the Quroum of the Twelve came to Spain to dedicate the land. He met with officials who had given tacit but not formal approval for missionaries. The first missionaries to Spain were Elders Clark Hinckley, Jose Luis Barco, Craig Ward and Robert Hernandez.

In 1970, the first mission was created in Spain, and by 1974, the mission included 17 branches with local leaders and 619 members. The Book of Mormon was translated into Castilian, the formal language of Spain, in 1981.

At various times, Church leaders visited King Juan Carlos, who became Spain's head of state after the death of Franco in 1975, and his wife, Sofia, who enjoyed watching BYU performing groups and listening to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

Representative of the early families who joined the Church in the 1970s is the Emilio Quirce Nunez and Rosa Mendoza Farran Quirce family.

Sister Quirce, a convert in December 1973, who is now stake Primary president, had a spiritual experience shortly after the death of her brother.

"I felt a very strong spirit. I knew that Heavenly Father lived. In Seville, where I was searching, I felt the Spirit tell me that the truth for which I was searching was not here, but would follow later.

"When I visited my mother's home in Madrid, I found a missionary card that had been left at a cousin's house.

"Then along came the missionaries - handsome, tall and blond youths. We did not let them in but they left a second card. I went on to discover a new religion. At the Madrid Branch meeting, I found people there happy and I felt happy. I also felt something that I had never before felt."

After she was baptized her children later were baptized. Their oldest son, Carmelo, then 12, attended meetings faithfully with her and wanted to be baptized.

Carmelo explained that his mother asked him to wait. "But with great prudence, she realized that she had a spiritual experience and wanted me to also have a spiritual experience and firm testimony before I was baptized," he said.

"A few months later, probably about February, I returned to my mother and told her again that I wanted to be baptized. She replied, `Yes,' but I want you to be very secure in your decision."

"At 12 years of age, I felt two forces, one telling me to be baptized, another telling me not to be baptized. I made the decision to be baptized.

"I was a convert because I have the feelings of a convert," he said. He is currently stake mission president.

Sister Quirce said that she went to the temple in 1985 and felt a prompting that her husband would be baptized.

"I had no expectations for him being baptized, but I had hope. Our son, Fernando Jose, now second counselor in the Madrid Stake presidency, was serving as a missionary. He wrote home saying that the day he was released from his mission, he wanted to baptize his father. His father agreed and was baptized in 1987."

Brother Quirce and Carmelo became home teaching companions, a fond experience for both. Brother Quirce later served as bishop and is now a branch president.

Subscribe for free and get daily or weekly updates straight to your inbox
The three things you need to know everyday
Highlights from the last week to keep you informed