Leander of Seville
San Leandro by Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo
|Bishop and Confessor|
Cartagena, in modern Spain
|Died||c. 13 March 600/601
|Venerated in||Roman Catholic Church|
|Feast||13 March (Catholic Church) and 27 February (Orthodox Church)|
Saint Leander of Seville (Spanish: San Leandro de Sevilla) (Cartagena, c. 534–Seville, 13 March 600 or 601), brother of the encyclopedist St. Isidore of Seville, was the Catholic Bishop of Seville who was instrumental in effecting the conversion to Catholicism of the Visigothic kings Hermengild and Reccared of Hispania (the Iberian Peninsula, comprising both modern Spain and Portugal).
Leander and Isidore and their siblings (all sainted) belonged to an elite family of Hispano-Roman stock of Carthago Nova. Their father Severianus is claimed to be according to their hagiographers a dux or governor of Cartagena, though this seems more of a fanciful interpretation since Isidore simply states that he was a citizen. The family moved to Seville around 554. The children's subsequent public careers reflect their distinguished origin: Leander and Isidore both became bishops of Seville, and their sister Saint Florentina was an abbess who directed forty convents and one thousand nuns. Even the third brother, Fulgentius, appointed Bishop of Écija at the first triumph of Catholicism over Arianism, but of whom little is known, has been canonised as a saint. The family as a matter of course were staunch Catholics, as were the great majority of the Romanized population, from top to bottom; only the Visigothic nobles and the kings were Arians. It should be stated that there was less Visigothic persecution of Catholics than legend and hagiography have painted. From a modern standpoint, the dangers of Catholic Christianity were more political. The Catholic hierarchy were in collusion with the representatives of the Byzantine emperor, who had maintained a considerable territory in the far south of Hispania ever since his predecessor had been invited to the peninsula by the former Visigothic king several decades before. In the north, Liuvigild struggled to maintain his possessions on the far side of the Pyrenees, where his Merovingian cousins and in-laws cast envious eyes on them and had demonstrated that they would stop at nothing with the murder of Liuvigild's sister.
Leander, enjoying an elite position in the secure surroundings of tolerated Catholic culture in Seville, became at first a Benedictine monk, and then in 579 he was appointed bishop of Seville. In the meantime he founded a celebrated school, which soon became a center of Catholic learning. As Bishop he had access to the Catholic Merovingian princess Ingunthis, who had come as a bride for the kingdom's heir, and he worked tirelessly with her to convert her husband St. Hermenegild, the eldest son of Liuvigild, an act of court intrigue that cannot honestly be divorced from a political context. Leander defended the new convert even when he went to war with his father "against his father's cruel reprisals," the Catholic Encyclopedia puts it. "In endeavoring to save his country from Arianism, Leander showed himself an Orthodox Christian and a far-sighted patriot."
Exiled by Liuvigild, as his biographies express it, he withdrew to Byzantium — perhaps quite hastily — when the rebellion failed, from 579 to 582. It is possible, but not proven, that he sought to rouse the Byzantine Emperor Tiberius II Constantine to take up arms against the Arian king; but in any case the attempt was without result. He profited, however, by his stay at Byzantium to compose works against Arianism, and there became acquainted with the future Pope Gregory the Great, at that time legate of Pope Pelagius II at the Byzantine court. A close friendship thenceforth united the two men, and some of their correspondence survives. In 585 Liuvigild put to death his intransigent son Hermenegild, who is a martyr and saint of the Roman Catholic Church. Liuvigild himself died in 589. It is not known exactly when Leander returned from exile, but he had a share in the conversion of Reccared the heir of Liuvigild, and retained an influence over him.
Catholic sources aver that it is not known exactly when Leander returned from exile, but it is extremely unlikely that it was during the old king's lifetime. After the death of Liuvigild, Leander swiftly returned to Hispania to convoke within the very year (589) the Third Council of Toledo, where Visigothic Hispania abjured Arianism, and Leander delivered the triumphant closing sermon, which his brother Isidore entitled Homilia de triumpho ecclesiae ob conversionem Gothorum a homily upon the triumph of the Church and the conversion of the Goths. On his return from this council, Leander convened a synod in his metropolitan city of Seville (Conc. Hisp., I), and never afterwards ceased his efforts to consolidate the work of extirpating the remains of Arianism, in which his brother and successor St. Isidore was to follow him. Leander received the pallium in August, 599.
There remain unfortunately of this writer, superior to his brother St. Isidore, only two works: De institutione virginum et contemptu mundi, a monastic rule composed for his sister, and Homilia de triumpho ecclesiæ ob conversionem Gothorum (P.L, LXXII). St. Isidore wrote of his brother: "This man of suave eloquence and eminent talent shone as brightly by his virtues as by his doctrine. By his faith and zeal the Gothic people have been converted from Arianism to the Catholic faith" (De script. eccles., xxviii).