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Church Reform in Spain and Portugal

A Short History of the Reformed Episcopal Churches of Spain and Portugal, from 1868 to the Present Time.

By H. E. Noyes.

London, Paris, Melbourne: Cassell and Company, 1897.

Chapter I. Seville.

ON Sunday, June 11th, 1871, in the fine old city of SEVILLE, in the south of Spain, there might have been seen a large number of people making their way to the Church of San Basilio, in the Calle Relator. By the time the service commenced there were about 1,200 persons present. Some (about 200) well understood the purpose of the gathering, but the greater part had come out of curiosity, for this was the first public service of what is now known as "the Reformed Spanish Church," and at least 1,000 Spaniards then heard for the first time the Gospel of free pardon through the blood of Christ. The service was liturgical, and on the lines of our own Church of England. The opening sentences from our morning prayer, the general confession and absolution, the Venite, the Litany, the general thanksgiving, and a few of the collects had been translated into Spanish, and [1/2] formed part of the service. Two chapters from the Bible were read, and four hymns sung. Among the latter were, "Just as I am," and "How sweet the name of Jesus sounds!" both of which were heartily rendered in Spanish music.

The sermon was preached by the Rev. Francisco Palomares, an ex-priest of the Church of Rome, from the words "God so loved the world" (John iii., 16). The congregation was so struck by the word spoken that the preacher was often interrupted by expressions of approval such as, "That is the truth!" "Good--very good!" "True, true!" etc. etc.

This scene, which everyone who knows Spain must acknowledge to have been a remarkable one; was the result of a combination of circumstances equally striking. The church was opened in 1871, three years after religious liberty had been declared in Spain. It was difficult before that date for foreigners even to hold a service at any seaport for their own countrymen; and for Spaniards to assemble for any religious purpose other than Roman Catholic was an impossibility. However, in 1868, a revolution took place under the patriot General Prim, one result of which was, that a measure of religious liberty was given to the people--a privilege of which many were only too ready to avail themselves.

At this time there resided in Seville an English clergyman, the Rev. L. S. Tugwell, who may be described as the father of this Episcopal development of Reform. Mr. Tugwell had gone to Seville for his health, having been invalided home from the mission field in British North America. The condition of things in Spain just then may be realised when we consider the difficulties of Mr. Tugwell in ministering to a small congregation [2/3] of English people. If responses were to be said, or hymns sung, both doors and windows had to be closed, every measure being taken to avoid publicity. Mr. Tugwell watched closely the result of the revolution, and soon felt that a long-wished-for day had arrived, and that something should be done to aid those Spaniards who had earnestly expressed to him their desire for more in the way of spiritual food than Rome had to offer. An appeal was made to the English public, through the Church papers, and the result was that sufficient money was received to purchase the Church of San Basilio from the Spanish Government. This church originally belonged to the Friars of the Order of St. Basil; but that Order having been suppressed, the building had been offered for sale.

When the church was purchased there was no one to occupy the pulpit. God, however, provided in a remarkable and unexpected way for this difficulty. In the report of the "Spanish Evangelical Mission," as it was then called, for 1871, we read how these reformers secured for the Church of San Basilio the services of the Rev. Francisco Palomares. an ex-Roman Catholic priest. The circumstances of his enlightenment are deeply interesting.

Palomares was chaplain to a Spanish nobleman, and, in the exercise of his duty, came to England in the year 1869. Brought up, in common with most Spaniards, to believe that Protestantism and infidelity were synonymous terms, he was much struck by our English Sunday, and the number of churches filled with devout worshippers. Being of an inquiring turn of mind, he studied the subject, and eventually became acquainted with the Rev. J. A. Aston, then labouring in Kensington, [3/4] whose teaching and ministry were greatly blessed to him. When Mr. Tugwell was appealing through the English press for funds to obtain the church and train a Spanish clergyman, 'Mr. Aston wrote to say that God had prepared the man, and that Señor Palomares was ready to go back to Spain and preach the faith which once he destroyed.

The matter was arranged, and from that day to the present the Rev. F. Palomares has worked earnestly and successfully at San Basilio, and his ministry has been much prospered. Sunday by Sunday from the pulpit of this church, within a few feet of the tomb of a former Inquisitor, is the Gospel fully preached. Day and Sunday schools are held, and a young men's society has been formed, some of the members acting as evangelists in the city and neighbourhood. So mightily has the Word of God prevailed.

The Rev. F. Palomares has also obtained a University dcgree as doctor, in order that while ministering to the bodies of his poorer fellow-citizens he might gain the opportunity of pointing them to the Great Physician. Daily he is consulted by many, who gladly listen to an explanation of the Gospel story. In the Report for 1871 the following interesting account of a service is given by Mr. Tugwell: "When in Seville last November I had the pleasure of being present with the Bishop of Gibraltar (Dr. Harris), the Rev. W. A. Campbell, and other friends at the first evening service held in the Church of San Basilio (the gas having only just been laid on). The congregation was large and attentive, and an admirable sermon was preached by Palomares, who afterwards administered the Lord's Supper to thirty-seven Spanish Christians. It was a [4/5] solemn and blessed season. What a change has God in His mercy wrought! A church which was for so long sunk in dark idolatry and superstition has been filled with Christian light, and consecrated to the service of the Lord Jesus and the simple ministration of His Gospel. The altar of the Romish Mass has given place to the Christian Communion-table, 'the Lord's board,' as our Reformers called it, where the Holy Supper is celebrated according to Christ's ordinance in all those things that are of necessity requisite to the same. The space over the table which had been occupied with the image of the Virgin Mary, set there for adoration, but which was carried away with other ornaments of the church, will shortly be filled by the Creed, the Lord's Prayer, and the Ten Commandments, one of which proclaims with the authority of God, 'Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image' . . . . . . . . . The blessed Gospel of the Grace of God is proclaimed from the pulpit, and a small chapel, which once belonged to an officer of the Inquisition, is now our Baptistery, where already several little ones have been dedicated to God, and sworn to contend manfully for the faith once delivered to the saints."

Besides the work at San Basilio in Seville, there is also that in connection with the Church of the Ascension. This church, formerly called the Church of the Assumption, is situated in one of the best squares of Seville, just opposite the "Museo" (which contains a large collection of Murillo's exquisite pictures), and is commodious and handsome.

In the year 1872, this building, formerly a convent church, was offered for public sale by the Spanish Government, and purchased by Mr. C. H. Bousefield, a [5/6] warm and generous friend of the Reformed Church. It was bought with two objects in view; first, for the accommodation of the small English community in Seville, and secondly, for the services of the Spanish Reformed Church. Many difficulties, raised by the authorities, prevented it being opened at once, but since these were overcome until the present time, services have been regularly held. From the position of the church the congregation represents a better class than is the case with some of our churches, where the people are for the most part very poor. That English services are held in a part of this building is a happy circumstance, and British chaplains have again and again borne testimony to the reality and promise of the work, of the Reformed Church in Seville.

The following account of the opening services, written by an English clergyman who was present, will be found interesting. "The church was solemnly opened by a series of services, the first of which was held on November 5th. The prayers were read by the Rev. F. Palomares, and the sermon preached by Señor Aguilera. The church was filled, many students and soldiers being amongst those present. The sermon was very powerful, and was listened to with the greatest attention. The text was taken from St. Matthew xxviii. 19-20. The services were continued every evening up to Sunday November 12th, the Rev. F. Palomares and Aguilera preaching alternately. The interest in the services increased daily till it culminated on Sunday evening in a great crowd. Every available space was occupied; Serlor Aguilera was again the preacher. His text was John vi. 56, and his extraordinary eloquence and powerful discourse produced a great impression. Notwithstanding the number [6/7] present, the greatest order prevailed. After the sermon there was an administration of the Lord's Supper, at which I assisted. The whole congregation remained in church.

"There were one hundred communicants, fifty-three women and forty-seven men, most of whom were members of the Churches of San Basilio and Triana. The service was of the most solemn character.

"Thus ended the dedicatory services in this new church, it being the fourth place of worship that has passed from Romish to Protestant use in Seville. May the pure Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ ever be proclaimed there! May many be brought not only out of Romanism, but also to accept the truth in Jesus! May many be truly born again, and as new creatures adorn the blessed Gospel! May Christians be edified and built up in the doctrines of our Lord and Saviour!

"I hope all Christians who read this will join in this prayer on behalf of beautiful but down-trodden and priest-ridden Spain."

The clergyman at present labouring at the "Ascension" is the Rev. Valentin Baquero, an ex-priest of the Church of Rome, an able and painstaking pastor. Here is held a school during the week, for children of a better class, and seed is being sown which, please God, will one day bring a rich harvest.

Besides the two churches above named, another former Roman Catholic church was purchased in an important suburb of Seville, known as Triana. This building was used at first only as a school, but afterwards services were held in it with much success. The district is a very poor one, and the difficulties of keeping up a service have been great. Some years ago the building [7/8] was in such a bad state of repair, and the funds of the Society so low, that it was found necessary to discontinue the services. Schools are still held which are attended by a number of poor children. The master here is Señor Manuel Cortes. It has been felt for some time that it might be well to sell this building, which is very old and much out of repair, and to use the money in providing missions for other parts of the city.

In the Republican insurrections of 1873, the Church of San Basilio was used as a place of refuge during the bombardment of the city. The Pastor, Señor Palomares, thus describes the striking scene:--"We passed three days of greater anguish than we had ever before experienced. A barricade was erected in front of the door of San Basilio Church, and a cannon was placed by the volunteers in the door of the school-room. On seeing these preparations, I had the English flag and that of the red cross or hospital flag hoisted on the church. I invited the neighbours without distinction of religion or politics to contribute bandages, medicines, and other necessaries for the wounded. This they did most willingly. A committee was formed to assist me in conveying the wounded not only to our own hospital, but also to those that were in the vicinity of the fighting.

"All this was done with great risk to our lives, but our Lord Jesus Christ was with us on all occasions. At the same time I occupied myself in gathering under the roof of San Basilio the women and children and the sick and aged. By this means, consolation and shelter were offered to more than 1,500 persons during the three days of danger, who left us with expressions of great gratitude." It was a terrible experience, but good came out of it, for many began to look with more favourable [8/9] eyes upon the Protestants, who showed such acts of kindness to all without distinction during that trying time in 1873.

In 1876 an institute for young men was founded in Seville, with a Bible class and prayer meeting. This has been continued to the present time, and has been the means of much good among young Spaniards, some of whom have been appointed from time to time to take cottage services, and to speak at meetings. We have good hopes of candidates for the ministry from this source.

With the restoration of the Bourbon monarchy in 1875, in the person of King Alfonso, fears were excited lest the religious liberty granted in 1869 might be withdrawn; but happily these fears were allayed by a declaration dated Jan. 16th 1875, that "Religious liberty as it exists at present should not be curtailed." One of the first acts of the new Government, however, was to suppress the organ of the Reformed Church, La Luz, a paper which had carefully avoided all political discussions. It was an indication that an Ultramontane reaction had set in, and that the religious liberty allowed was of a meagre character. There was, however, no interference with the services, and the work continued to make progress. The reports from Seville at this time were most encouraging. At San Basilio a communicants' class numbered 70, and 300 children were under instruction in the schools.

In March 1880, the first Synod of the Spanish Episcopal Reformed Church was held in Seville, and was attended by delegates from the congregations in other cities. Bishop Riley of Mexico, who had visited Spain in accordance with a resolution of the Lambeth [9/10] Conference (see pp. 73, 74), presided on the occasion. The Reformed Church was formally constituted, and the Bishop-elect (the Rev. J. B. Cabrera) chosen. At the request of the Synod Bishop Riley ordained as Deacon the Rev. J. Dominguez as Pastor for Malaga, where he had been labouring as lay minister for the past four years.

At the beginning of 1881, Lord Plunket paid his first visit to Seville, and the Church was much encouraged. It was, unfortunately, the time of a serious inundation owing to the rising of the Gaudalquivir, and this fact prevented many from attending the services. The streets were mostly flooded, and people could not travel. A service which was to have been held in the Church of the Ascension had to be given up, as the doors were barricaded to keep out the water. To view it Lord Plunket had to go in a boat--indeed, this was the only means of locomotion. However, a service was held in San Basilio, and deputations waited upon the Bishop, who conveyed to them a message of sympathy from the Irish Church. The address which Lord Plunket gave on that occasion has been published in Light and Truth for June, 1881.

This year the second Synod of the Reformed Church was held in Seville, under the presidency of the Rev. J. B. Cabrera, the Bishop-elect, and was largely attended by delegates from all parts of Spain. Four congregations presented petitions desiring union with the Reformed Spanish Church--viz.: Monistrol, San Vicente, Salamanca and Villaescusa--and after careful inquiry they were formally admitted. The Bishop-elect addressed the Synod, describing the state of the Church, its hopes and fears; he also explained fully the progress that he had made in the [10/11] compilation of a liturgy. A fraternal salutation of Christian love was sent to the Lusitanian Church.

In March, 1882, the Rev. J. B. Cabrera paid another visit to Seville, and made a careful examination of the churches. He reported that the work had steadily increased in growth and importance, and had proved itself to be, under God's gracious guidance and blessing, a power in the land. "The Bible is becoming better known; publications of a Scriptural character are now earnestly bought; the young are being trained in the fear and knowledge of God, and there is a real and deep desire to hear the oral preaching of the Gospel of Christ."

In the early part of 1887, the Right Rev. A. N. Littlejohn, Bishop of Long Island, paid a visit to Seville, and was cordially welcomed by Señor Palomares and his congregation. The Bishop attended the Holy Communion service, and gave an address. He expressed his pleasure at seeing so good a congregation, and at hearing the hymns, which were the same as those used in the American Church. He also spoke in commendation of the liturgy, with which he said he was well acquainted in the English translation. Between seventy and eighty partook of the Holy Communion. After leaving Seville the Bishop addressed the following letter to the congregation:--

"To the faithful in Jesus Christ in the Church of San Basilio, Seville, Spain, greeting--the grace and peace of God our Father, and of the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Since I had the privilege of being with you at Divine service, I have constantly borne you in mind and in my prayers. God in his wise providence has laid upon you the duty of showing by teaching, service, and daily life, the Faith which He [11/12] Himself delivered to the saints, and the truth as it is in Jesus, in the midst of a people sadly given over to error and superstition. He who has called you into His marvellous light has likewise charged you with the great mission of witnessing in Seville on behalf of the order and discipline ofa Reformed branch of the Holy Catholic Apostolic Church. The task you have undertaken involves many difficulties and much self-abnegation, and requires on your part great patience and saintly perseveranceeven, may be, to martyrdom. May grace and strength be given you in this holy work, and may God in his goodness abundantly vouchsafe that you may come out more than conquerors through Jesus. Ever remembering you in my prayers, believe me to remain, your faithful and affectionate brother and servant in Jesus Christ.

"Bishop of Long Island, U.S.A."

This welcome letter was received with gratitude and enthusiasm by the Reformers of Seville, who sent an affectionate reply. The Bishop also wrote an interesting letter to the New York Churchman of September 22nd, 1887, strongly commending the work, and speaking in high terms of Mr. Caldwell, the American consul who had acted as lay chaplain to the Bishop during his visit.

The Rev. W. Preston, Vicar of Holy Trinity, Runcorn, also visited Seville at this time, and bore eloquent testimony to the good work being carried on by Pastors Baquero and Palomares.

In March of the following year (1888) his Grace the Archbishop of Dublin paid another visit to Seville. It was the time of the annual festival of the day and [12/13] Sunday schools, and there were 150 children, besides over 200 adults, who had assembled to welcome his Grace. On the following Sunday (17th) an ordination service was held in San Basilio, when a deacon was admitted to holy orders, and the same evening in the Church of the Ascension a confirmation was held, at which eighteen candidates were presented. The congregation numbered over 200, and the address of the Archbishop will not soon be forgotten.

As an illustration of the growing spiritual life of the Church I may mention a Conference of Church workers which was held at this time. All the Seville workers were present, and several from the neighbouring towns, besides colporteurs working in different parts of the country. All met at eight o'clock every morning during the Conference for the reading of the Bible and prayer. The following subjects were carefully considered (a) the spiritual life of the colporteur; (b) the difficulties of the work; (c) the means of overcoming these; (d) and the results from the propagation of the Gospel.

It was a most successful re-union, and the unity, sincerity, and good feeling manifested were very marked. A stimulus was given to the work, and many young men offered themselves for employment in the distribution of Bibles and tracts, and for the general work of evangelisation.

Passing on to October, 1894, the Rev. F. Palomares recorded the following figures for San Basilio. Communicants, 132; children in schools, 150; gratuitous medical visits, 205.

On Christmas Day this year the south of Spain was visited by a serious earthquake. It was felt most severely at Malaga, but Seville also suffered. At [13/14] nine o'clock, just after the congregation had left the Church of San Basilio, there was a severe shock, and the old church was sadly injured. One of the galleries was. parted from the wall and was in danger of falling. The tower was also badly shaken. A considerable sum had to be expended upon repairs.

An interesting notice of the work at the Ascension is given at this time, to the effect that Pastor Baquero was conducting three services each week, the congregation being on an average ninety at each service. On Sunday morning a sprinkling of strangers might generally be seen, coming out of curiosity or real interest. The opportunity presented by this church, situated, as it is, in a fashionable quarter, and surrounded by mansions, is full of hope.

Pastor Baquero has been successful as a teacher of the young, and some children of the upper classes have been under his instruction. He thinks much might be done in this way, if funds could be obtained for a more suitable building.

Of this work, Pastor Baquero wrote: "During the past twelve months 200 children have passed through our schools. We have an average of fifty present who work hard to avail themselves of the educational privileges offered. Many stay only six or eight months, and are then taken away to workshops, or to labour in the fields. They will not, however, soon forget their Catechism and the instruction received at the Bible classes and at the Sunday school. The good seed sown and prayerfully watered will doubtless bear fruit in God's own time and way."

An individual case of blessing received will be interesting. A friend of Pastor Baquero desired to send his [14/15] children to the school, but was warmly opposed by his wife and mother. For the sake of peace it was agreed that the two boys should attend, and that a little girl should be left with her mother. At night the elder son would speak to his mother and grandmother of what he learned in the Bible class, though at times they opposed him. But the boy had not only been taught the letter of the Word, but had received the grace of God into his heart, and in his simple way he explained the words of our Lord, until at last they listened without opposition. At length the grandmother desired to go and hear for herself, but while arranging so to do she fell ill. She expressed a desire to see Pastor Baquero, who went and prayed with her. She recovered, and her first visit was to the church to offer thanksgiving to God for her renewed health. She is now a communicant member of the congregation, and frequently tells others of the change God wrought in her heart by the means of her little grandson.

One of the most cheering features of the Reformed Church work in Seville is that, while keeping strictly to the law, there is an earnest missionary spirit amongst the members prompting them to take every possible measure to evangelise others. The law enjoins that there must be no public manifestation of religion except on the part of the Roman Church. No advertisement of services can be made in the press, or placards posted. Still the reformers are not daunted, and their pastor sends out from time to time neat little circulars, inviting outsiders to come. I give a copy of one of these:

"Evangelical Church of San Basilio, Calle Relator, Seville.--You are invited to hear the Word of God, according to the sacred Scriptures, in the above church. [15/16] Sundays, at 12 in the morning, and 8 o'clock at night. Wednesdays at 8 at night. The Young Men's Union holds public meetings on Mondays at 8.

"Pastor of the said Church."

It would be easy to fill many pages with the testimonies, very often unsolicited, to the good work being done in this city, but I may not occupy more space.

Should any readers of this story visit Spain, I would recommend them not to pass by Seville, where they will receive a hearty welcome from the pastors, and can see for themselves the good work which has been there accomplished.

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