31 July 2006


Sevilla, or Seville in English, is the capital of the civil province of Sevilla and of the autonomous community of AndalucĂ­a. Remember that the autonomous communities of Spain are self governing bodies whose autonomy is somewhere between those of our states and the independent countries of the European Union. It is in the southern portion of Spain, the part of Spain which has the most Arab influence because of the prolonged Moorish presence there.

The city traces its roots to the 9th century before Christ. It passed through the hands of the Phoenicians and the Carthaginians, who destroyed the city in 216 BC. In Latin the city was known as Hispalis. In the Second Punic War, the Roman military leader Scipio Africanus defeated the Carthaginians in the Battle of Ilipia. The battle took place 10 miles north of modern Seville and with Rome's victory, Spain became a possession of the Roman Republic.

After the battle, the general founded the city of Italica to settle his wounded soldiers. Italica grew and was the birthplace of two Roman emperors- Trajan and Hadrian. Hadrian did much to build up the city, making it a colonia (important city). Hadrian built a temple to Trajan and rebuilt many public buildings. According to Wikipedia, a shift in the bed of the Guadalquivir River caused Italica to become isolated. As a result, Hispalis (Seville) became the capital of the Roman province of Hispania Baetica.

We have record of Saint Gerontius, the Bishop of Italica, preached in the area during the Apostolic Era. For sure, there was a bishop of Seville by 287-300. We know this because Bishop Sabinus attended the Council of Elvira (Iliberis) in modern day Granada. This council forbade Christians from participating in pagan festivals or games. It was reaffirmed that the bishop was the head of the local Church, and the sacraments could be celebrated by priests only under his authority. Oddly enough, it forbade images in churches. Most people interpret this as either not allowing pagans to caricature sacred scenes (the problem we have with Satanists today) or to keep new converts from relapsing into idolatry by not understanding the true meaning of sacred art. Especially interesting is Canon 33, the first canon on record concerning clerical celebacy.

In the year 303, the Church in Seville was in the middle of a great persecution. Saints Justa and Rufina (
painting here by... you guessed it, Murillo!) are two of the most well known Spanish martyrs in history. They were potters and, according to tradition, one man offered a large sum of money for some of their pots. The sources I found differ a little here, but one story goes that the sisters found out that the pots would be used for pagan worship. Once they found out, they smashed the pots and the angry customer dragged them to be tried for heresy against the gods. They were stretched on the rack and St. Rufina was strangled. They died and their feast day is now celebrated on July 17 in Spain as patron saints of Seville.

With the westward expansion of the Huns out of Eurasia, the Germanic barbarians and other groups such as the Alans pushed into what was the Roman Empire. The Vandals and Alans divided the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal) between them, but were pushed out when the Visigoths invaded from Toulouse. The reign of the Visigothic kings is said to have been from 415 to 711, when the Arabs took over. The Visigoths had been converted to Arianism in the year 360. This caused problems with the Catholic bishops of Spain. Finally, in the year 587, Saint Leander of Seville, bishop, returned from exile and helped convert the Visigothic king Reccared. The king made a public profession of faith at the Third Council of Toledo in 589 and the majority of the Arian nobility converted.

Seville was captured by the Moors in 711, and stayed under Muslim control for 500 years. In 1248, Saint King Ferdinand III captured Seville in the Reconquista. Along with Saints Justa and Rufina, he is the patron saint of the city and archdiocese of Sevilla.