In the chancel area of our parish, we find two beautiful icons of Saint Leander and Saint Isidore. These men were brothers, and both were bishops of Seville. The icons are in the chancel area because of the men’s significance to sacred music and the liturgy. Their illustrious family was of old Roman stock that had long lived in Hispania (the Roman province of Spain), and their family had remained within the old Faith since apostolic times. But Roman Spain was not to last. The Visigoths, who were barbarian invaders, had infamously sacked Rome in 410, and they had continued their migration over to the Iberian Peninsula, which they invaded, settled, and where they established a kingdom. The Visigoths were Arian heretics, and they rejected the divinity of Christ. So the Visigoth newcomers suppressed the Catholic Church in Spain, and yet Catholicism survived in pockets – in households and in monasteries – and from that old root would come forth these brother bishops of Seville.
Saint Leander (534-601) was the elder of the two brothers, and it fell upon Leander to bring that heretic nation to the Catholic Faith. He had chosen the hidden life of a monk, but God would call him forth into a place of leadership, to draw the Visigoths into the Catholic fold. This was not an easy task. Leander found himself in exile (where he struck up a lasting friendship with Gregory the Great, whose icon is nearby). But God was preparing the hearts of the Visigoths, so in time Archbishop Leander brought the royal family and later the whole kingdom into the Church. He did so, in part, by making his focus the Nicene Creed. In our icon, we see a partially unrolled scroll with lines from that Creed that stress Christ’s divinity. Arianism was such a pernicious heresy that it required an absolutely clear expression of our Catholic beliefs (the Nicene Creed). And so every Sunday, we Catholics chant this same Creed the world over, and we have Saint Leander to thank for that, because it was he who made it part of our weekly prayer. Leander reminds us that not all forms of Christianity are the same, and that we need to worship Christ and to have a faith that is orthodox and Catholic. Leander’s ministry was successful but a century later, Islam would begin its conquest of Spain, and once again a new invader would deny the divinity of Christ. Ours is a never-ending responsibility to proclaim Christ as Lord.
Saint Leander, whose feast day is February 27th, was a great proponent of learning, and despite there being so few extant works of his, he is nevertheless recognized in his homeland as a Doctor of the Church. Incidentally, Leander is also credited with adding the filioque clause to the Nicene Creed, which today is used shamefully by the Greek Orthodox as an excuse for Christian divisions that occurred many centuries later. Leander also began the task that his brother, Isidore, would finish: the compiling of the traditional chant of the Mozarabic Rite of Spain. You can find Mozarabic chant videos online, and they are hauntingly beautiful. This music is simultaneously mystical and earthy, and to listen to this chant gives us a glimpse of what worshiping was like in old Spain.
We invoke the prayers of these two great brother bishops of Seville to be patrons of our music program here at OLM, and to help us know and honor the Hispanic traditions that are a part of our collective Catholic heritage. These priceless icons are unique treasures. They were commissioned in 2015 by our pastor, and they were hand-painted in Mexico. The iconographer was asked to invoke, as much as possible, the Spanish twelfth-century Romanesque frescoes of the Basilica San Isidoro de Leon.
Lastly, we might suppliantly invoke the prayers of Saint Leander in our work to make the world Catholic. In the Bible, our Lord says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd” (John 10:16). Reflecting upon these words, Saint Leander could say boldly, at the end of his life, “Behold, we see this has been fulfilled…so that if there remains any part of the world or any barbarian race upon whom our faith in Christ has not yet shone, then we should have no doubt that it will believe and that it will come into the Church if we but reflect upon the truth of what our Lord has said!”