“If God one day has mercy on Seville,” wrote Cipriano de Valera in 1588, “San Isidoro Monastery will be a university for the study of theology.” The Spanish monk, a convert to the teachings of the Reformation, wrote these words in exile after escaping the rigors of the Inquisition.

Valera’s trust in God’s mercy appears to be bearing dramatic fruit at last. A Protestant group, the Reina-Valera Foundation, purchased a major part of the important San Isidoro del Campo Monastery in September, for conversion into a conference and study center. The Spanish government has declared the monastery, with its four-and-a-half acres of grounds, to be of national interest and of historical and artistic value.

The foundation, consisting of Spanish Christian businessmen and D. José Cardona, a Baptist pastor who is secretary of the Spanish Evangelical Commission on [religious] Defense, made a down payment of $25,000 for the acquisition; the remaining $325,000 is due before June 1982.

Built in the thirteenth century, the monastery achieved prominence three centuries later. Its monks engaged in secret Bible studies after a certain Julianillo Hernández smuggled in New Testaments and other prohibited books. So intense was the response that almost the entire order accepted the Reformed doctrine of salvation by faith in Christ alone.

Casiodoro de Reina—the other monk after whom the foundation is named—began to translate the Bible into Spanish direct from the original languages. Reina and Valera were among 20 monks the Inquisition forced to flee. Reina’s Bible translation—the one still used by the evangelical churches in Spain today—was first published in Basel, Switzerland, in 1569. It was revised by Valera, and the second edition published in Amsterdam in 1602.

Protestant operation of San Isidoro is visible evidence of the remarkable degree to which Spain has moved over the last 40 years, from religious repression, through various degrees of religious toleration, to genuine religious liberty.

In 1939, following the victory of General Francisco Franco in the civil war, most Protestant churches were closed for several years.

The right of non-Catholics to “private worship” (broadly interpreted to mean worship in recognized places without external indications of any kind) was recognized in 1945. But church closings and other denials of liberty soon followed.

More New Neighbors

The first mosque to be built in Spain since the Moors were driven out in the fifteenth century has been erected in the city of Marbella. The Arabs are moving in along the Costa del Sol, using oil dollars to buy land seized from their ancestors by the sword. The new summer residents include Crown Prince Fahd of Saudi Arabia and Sheikh Zayid, the ruler of Abu Dhabi. The newcomers are doing their best to avoid generating a backlash. Prince Fahd, for instance, has donated $2 million to city hall to ease a low-income housing shortage in Marbella.

Toleration became more generous during the latter part of the Franco era. In 1967, a law on religious liberty “compatible in any case with the Catholic confession of the Spanish state,” was promulgated.

Under King Juan Carlos, religious liberty has increased dramatically. In 1978, the new constitution laid the groundwork for real religious liberty. It says, “the freedom of ideology, religion, and worship of individuals and communities is guaranteed without limitation in its manifestations except as necessary for maintaining public order protected by law.”

The only reference to the Catholic church, which has traditionally been the state church, is a pledge that the government “will continue appropriate relations of cooperation with the Catholic Church and other confessions.”

Last year the Spanish government enacted the law of religious liberty, which elaborates the meaning of the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty. It lists specific guarantees, such as the right to change religion, manifest beliefs, worship, teach, associate with other believers, choose religious leaders, and own property for religious purposes.

Protestants are moving to exploit the opportunities that came with their new freedoms. Evangelistic films have already been shown in many cities and towns since the anti-Protestant regulations were lifted. The Protestant churches are learning how to run evangelistic crusades, local church campaigns, and evangelistic tent meetings.

They are also developing religious broadcasting, linking programs to promotion of Bibles and gospel literature. The arrival of local radio in many parts of Spain was an important element.

Although Protestants are growing steadily, they total only about a quarter-million out of Spain’s 37.8 million, and enrolled church members number no more than 50,000.

The Brethren are the largest group, with some 90 congregations; the Baptists have 80, and there are small but important Reformed Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Evangelical denominations, as well as many independent Protestant fellowships.

When modifications are complete, the monastery where Reina and Valera were fired by the gospel promises to make a significant contribution to this Protestant community; it will be used for seminars, conferences, and retreats. The sixteenth-century Gothic cloister will house the main conference hall, a museum, a library, and study rooms. Other buildings will provide sleeping, dining, and other facilities for up to 800 guests. Plans call for a special library for research on the Protestant movement in Spain, with separate student rooms apart from the conference center.

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