High up in the Spanish Pyrenese mountains near the French border is a tiny medieval town built on a mountainside that overlooks a picturesque valley. High above the town on an exposed hilltop sits the remains of a church built in the middle of the 10th century. My wife and I just returned from Spain where we hiked to this ancient house of worship.
The view of the patchwork valley below and the mountains beyond was invigorating, especially at the thought that fellow worshippers of Christ have enjoyed that same vista for a thousand years. The chapel was a simple, decayed stone building with a recently-restored roof. Inside, my wife and I sat on the lone bench and enjoyed the quiet peace that accompanies such simplicity and solitude.
After taking a few pics we lit a candle at the makeshift altar and went outside to get a final glimpse of this corner of God’s creative handiwork. As we were sitting on the front steps packing up our belongings an elderly woman (who had hiked the whole way with her hiking cane in hand) entered the church and began to sing in what I presumed was the Catalan language. After only one beautiful song she exited the building where we engaged in conversation.
Between my wife and I, only one of us speaks Spanish (me) and neither of us speak Catalan, the native tongue of this woman and most people in this region of Spain. (To me Catalan sounds like a mix between Spanish and French so I was able to understand about 65% of what she was saying) It was awkward to communicate at first, though I’m not sure if that was a result of the language barrier or because most small-talk with strangers is awkward. We spoke of us being visitors and her being a lifelong resident of a nearby town. We spoke of her 2-3 days-a-week hike to this church. We spoke of the ubiquity of the Catalan language in the region. And then she asked me if we were religious.
Me: Of course! We’re Mormons!
Me: Have you heard of Mormons?
Her: Yes…do you have more wives than this one (pointing to my understanding-more-of-the-conversation-than-I-thought, smiling wife).
Me: HA! No. Mormons don’t have multiple wives. Over a hundred years ago a few Mormons did, kind of like Abraham, but now we have only one.
The idea that Abraham had more than one wife seemed to confuse her enough that she didn’t want to push that conversation (and neither did I) so she steered the conversation to the Book of Mormon. After she didn’t get the response she was hoping for she then began to talk about how the singular purpose of all American churches (i.e. the Mormon Church) is for financial gain. I agreed with her sentiment that those kinds of churches are problematic and that’s why I was happy that all those who serve in the Mormon Church do so for free. Then, after explaining why it’s necessary for all churches to have some money, I assured her that her church had more money than almost any other non-governmental institution in the world.
Her: Oh no it doesn’t. Perhaps it used to, but not anymore.
Me: Sure it does. Just the real estate alone is worth…
Her: The village owns this church, not the Church! We maintain it, we upkeep it, it’s ours, not the Church’s.
Now, she may be right. But I’m not a full-time missionary nor do I have any hope or desire of convincing this 70+ Catalanyan woman that I’m right and she’s wrong about an issue that I care very little about, so I changed the subject to something we both love almost as much as our respective churches: cheese.
By the time we parted ways she was once again smiling and I was feeling relieved. We made our way down the slope, wandered to the other side of the village where we relaxed in the sulfuric baths that the Romans built 2000 years ago and discussed the day’s proceedings. It was then that I remembered the inspired verse from the Book of Mormon, “Behold, the (healing) power of cheese.”