MADRID, Spain — Just 30 years after the first missionaries arrived here to preach the restored gospel of Jesus Christ, the 56th temple of the Church was dedicated by President Gordon B. Hinckley in Madrid on March 19-21.
"To see the great blossoming of the work has been a glorious, wonderful thing," said President Hinckley in comments to the media about the growth of the Church in general and the Iberian Peninsula in particular.
"Who would ever have dreamed just a few years ago that we would have a temple in Madrid, Spain? That we'd have a temple in Ghana in Africa, that we'd have a temple in Suva, Fiji, and many other places where we're building these structures."
President Hinckley presided over the dedicatory events and took turns with his first counselor, President Thomas S. Monson, in conducting the sessions, offering the dedicatory prayer and addressing the gatherings convened for the express purpose of dedicating a new "House of the Lord."
All told, nearly 10,000 members attended during 10 dedicatory sessions. The temple serves some 80,000 members from throughout Spain, including the Canary Islands, and Portugal and the Bordeaux France Stake.
Also participating in the dedicatory ceremonies were Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve, Elder David E. Sorensen of the Presidency of the Seventy and executive director of the Temple Department and Elder F. Burton Howard of the Seventy and a member of the Europe West Area presidency.
Among those who attended were wives of the participating General Authorities: Marjorie Hinckley, Frances Monson, Verla Sorensen and Caroline Howard.
The opening of the temple began with the official closing of a symbolic cornerstone on March 19. In the semi-darkness of dawn, when a thousand members arrived for the first dedicatory session, a chill hung in the air.
However, by the time President Hinckley daubbed the first bit of mortar around the stone about 9 a.m. the sun had sent eye-watering brightness and comforting warmth to those gathered at the southeast corner of the white marble edifice. By noon, most who were on the grounds had removed their coats and sought what little shade could be found.
On the eve of the dedication, President Hinckley recounted to the Church News a bit of Spain's history. He mentioned the difficulties faced by early members of the Church here.
The first branch of the Church in Madrid, comprised mostly of Latter-day Saints in the U.S. military, businessmen and their families, was organized on the first Sunday in February 1968, the year following the passage of the Spanish Liberty Law.
President Hinckley said that there are pioneers in the Church across the world, and that the Iberian Peninsula is no exception.
"We have people who do heroic things in support of the Church, in joining the Church, in becoming a part of this great movement," he said. "It's just a marvelous thing wherever you go. This is a place where there are pioneers and there will continue to be pioneers as they shake off the things of the past and put on the cloak of righteousness in adherence to the principles of the restored gospel."
President Hinckley said he visited Spain and Portugal for the first time in 1955 during his travels after the dedication of the Swiss Temple.
"I went to Rome after that and then here to Madrid and then to Lisbon. There was nothing in the way of our work in any of those places. Now, to see the great blossoming of that work has been a glorious, wonderful thing."
He spoke of the arrival of the first missionaries to Spain in 1969. "There were a few struggling members," he said. "Now, to see what has happened in those 30 years — to see the strength of the work, and this magnificent structure, with this beautiful stake center, the missionary training center and the other facilities — is almost a miracle. . . .
"The work is hard. It is difficult. Missionary work is not easy anywhere that I know of. This is one of those places where there aren't mass numbers of people who join the Church but there has been a steady increase of membership of the Church through the years throughout this Iberian Peninsula — in Spain, Portugal and southern France."
He commented on a visit he and Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve made to Spain in 1992 to look for a site on which to build a temple.
"When Elder Ballard and I . . . stepped upon this ground, it was hard to envision anything such as this. We did think in terms of a temple and a stake center. . . . It was apparent that this was the place to [build the temple]."
In comments to the Church News, President Monson said, "For a long while we've recognized the need for a temple on the Iberian Peninsula. I'm overjoyed to have the opportunity of participating with President Hinckley and others in the dedication of this magnificent Madrid Spain Temple.
"I think it is one of the most beautiful temples we have yet constructed. The architects have been inspired in the design and the builders have been master craftsmen in the erection of the temple.
"The people of Spain and of Portugal have waited ever so long for missionaries from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be permitted to enter and teach the people the gospel of Jesus Christ.
"The way was not easy, nor was the time brief. Step by step, preparations were made, the laws of the country amended that freedom of religion might prevail. The first missionaries were sent from other Spanish-speaking missions and soon more missionaries came. Two of the first four missionaries — Clark Hinckley and Craig Ward — were present at the dedication and were called upon to speak.
"The growth of the Church has been nothing short of miraculous. Within 30 years since the missionaries arrived, we now have stakes of Zion, numerous missions and a people prepared for the ordinances which only a temple can provide.
"Perhaps some of my most sensitive feelings regarding the dedication concern those who traveled great distances with little means but felt the urgency not to miss the blessed event of the dedication of a temple," President Monson said.
"I have observed an expression of true joy. Members came anxious to be filled with the Spirit and will return to their homes with their hearts overflowing. This is a watershed moment for Spain, when one considers the recent opening of our missionary work in these countries and the phenomenal membership growth that has taken place."
Elder Holland commented that participating in the dedication was "a magnificent experience. . . . Spain has been central to the drama and influenced western culture for millennia now.
"To have a beautiful temple — an exquisitely beautiful temple — in this country with such a Christian tradition and historic influence has been truly inspirational."
Further, he said: "I have been so deeply touched by the love, devotion and emotion of the members here, such as the sisters who served in the cafeteria and volunteers who have cleaned every aspect of the temple grounds, to say nothing of the temple itself. A sweet sister, in the dark on her hands and knees, washed the marble trim at the base of the fountains of the garden plaza. They are all so grateful for this temple and so moved to realize that this magnificent edifice is for them."
Elder Sorensen described the three-day dedication event as "joyous." He said, "Everything in the temple reminds us that the Lord is near and that we can improve our lives and our families as we qualify ourselves to participate in the ordinances of this holy house."
He commended members of the local temple committee for their work in preparing the temple.
Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf of the Seventy and president of the Europe West Area served as chairman of the Madrid Spain Temple committee. "Bonifacio Lopez Artemo, vice chairman of the local temple committee and others serving with him, have done a remarkable work in preparing the temple for dedication."
Elder Howard, in comments to the Church News, referred to the prayer offered on May 20, 1969, by Elder Marion G. Romney for the opening of Spain for the preaching of the gospel.
"Elder Romney, who was then a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, didn't mention temples in particular but he said that the gospel had been restored 'for the salvation of all men — all men.' "
Elder Howard noted that Elder Romney prayed that the Spanish converts would " 'be leaders of their own people, that Zion may grow and increase in this land, that the righteous may be gathered out and that there may be established here in this land, in the not-too-distant future, wards and stakes for the strengthening of Thy kingdom and the salvation of Thy people upon this land.'
"With the dedication of this temple," Elder Howard said, "is the realization of that day. In attendance were many pioneers of the gospel who are now leaders of the Church here.
"The members have been moved. In each session, a choir from one of the various regions of the temple district sang. When they finished, there were tears. . . . The tears were not from just the choir, but all who were touched. I watched the members' faces. Tears of joy were seen on every face."