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Roman Catholicism in Spain

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Title: Roman Catholicism in Spain  
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Roman Catholicism in Spain

Royal Collegiate Church of Santa María la Mayor in Antequera, Andalusia

The Spanish Catholic Church, part of the global Roman Catholic Church, is under the spiritual leadership of the Pope, curia in Rome, and the Conference of Spanish Bishops.


After 410 AD, Spain was taken over by the Visigoths who had been converted to Arian Christianity around 360. From the 5th to the 7th century, about thirty synods, were held at Toledo to regulate and standardize matters of discipline, decreed uniformity of liturgy throughout the kingdom. Medieval Spain was the scene of almost constant warfare between Muslims and Christians. The Almohads, who had taken control of the Almoravids' Maghrebi and Andalusian territories by 1147, far surpassed the Almoravids in Islamic fundamentalism, and they treated the non-Muslim dhimmis harshly. Faced with the choice of death, conversion, or emigration, many Jews and Christians left.[1]

The Reconquista was the long process by which the Catholics reconquered Spain from Muslims by 1492. The Spanish Inquisition was established in 1478 to complete the religious purification of the Iberian Peninsula. In the centuries that followed, Spain saw itself as the bulwark of Catholicism and doctrinal purity.


There are over 42 million baptized, covering about 92% of the total population.[2] There are 70 dioceses and archdioceses. Like the French church, the Spanish church oversees one of the greatest repositories of religious architecture (and art) in the world, including Sagrada Familia church (of Antoni Gaudi) in Barcelona, Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, a popular pilgrim site, Burgos Cathedral, Seville Cathedral, Toledo Cathedral, and Cordoba Cathedral-Mosque (officially known as the Cathedral of the Virgin of the Assumption).

In 2007, for example, over 100,000 people walked to Santiago de Compostela alone.[3] For over a thousand years, Europeans living north of the Alps have made their way to the Closest place in Europe "where they could access the spiritual authority of an Apostle: Santiago de Compostela."[4]

Holy Week (Spanish: Semana Santa) in Spain also attracts thousands pilgrims and tourists alike. For centuries Holy Week has had a special significance in the church calendar in Spain, where early on Good Friday the darkened streets of dawn become the stage for solemn processions and celebrations that lead up to festivities of Easter Sunday. Fifty-eight processions (according to a 2008 guide) parallel the health and wealth of the city from the 16th and 17th centuries of its golden age to the French Invasion in the 18th century and finally to its rebirth today in the twentieth century. Despite church attendances falling, in common with the rest of Europe, the Easter processions are expanding, as many newly formed brotherhoods have asked for permission from bishops and other authorities to process during Holy Week.[5]

Other places of religious interest are Ávila and Segovia. In Avila, the Monastery of Discalced Carmelite Nuns shelters the burial place of St. Teresa of Avila, the 16th century mystic and Doctor of the Church who wrote Interior Castles and Way of Perfection. In Segovia, one can find the last Gothic cathedral in Spain, called "the Lady of the Cathedrals"; and in the Church of the Discalced Carmelites, the tomb of St. John of the Cross, another 16th century mystic and Doctor of the Church, famous for the way he interwove the poetic and prose expressions of his mysticism in forty poetic stanzas of the Spiritual Canticle and eight additional stanzas for describing the "Dark Night of the Soul."

Another religious and tourist site is the Toledo Cathedral, which houses the "Twelve Apostles" by El Greco. It holds the primacy of Spain.


In spite of strong traditions, most Spaniards do not participate regularly in religious services. A study conducted in October 2006 by the Spanish Centre of Sociological Research[6] shows that of the Spaniards who identify themselves as religious, 54% hardly ever or never go to church (except for wedding and funerals), 15% go to church some times a year, 10% some time per month and 19% every Sunday or multiple times per week. A huge majority of young Spaniards, including those who self-identify as Catholic, ignore the church's stance on issues such as pre-marital sex, sexual orientation or contraception.[7][8][9][10][11] The total number of parish priests has shrunk from 24,300 in 1975 to 19,307 in 2005. Nuns also dropped 6.9% to 54,160 in the period 2000-2005 (though compared to the United States with nearly 70 million Catholics and only 44 thousand priests and 50 thousand nuns, it is not severe).[12]

According to the Eurobarometer 69 (2008), another independent source, only 3% of Spaniards consider religion as one of their three most important values, while the European mean is 7%.[13]

See also


  1. ^ The Almohads
  2. ^ Cf. Boletín de la Santa Sede, 21-7-2011, publicado en vistas del viaje de Benedicto XVI a Madrid en agosto de ese mismo año 2011.
  3. ^ Howse, Christopher (2008-06-07). "Blisterless on the road to Santiago". The Telegraph,. Retrieved 2008-08-07. 
  4. ^ Kevin A. Codd, "El Camino Speaks," America, 15 December 2003, 8.
  5. ^ Brian Whelan, "Amid the smell of incense came the purple-hooded Nazarenes," The Tablet, 22 March 2008, 16.
  6. ^ Centre of Sociological Investigations
  7. ^ Tarvainen, Sinikka (2004-09-26). "Reforms anger Spanish church". Dawn International. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  8. ^ "Zapatero accused of rejecting religion". Worldwide Religious News. 2004-10-15. Retrieved 2008-03-21. 
  9. ^ Loewenberg, Samuel (2005-06-26). "As Spaniards Lose Their Religion, Church Leaders Struggle to Hold On". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  10. ^ Pingree, Geoff (2004-10-01). "Secular drive challenges Spain's Catholic identity". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2008-10-21. 
  11. ^ Samuel Lowenberg, "Church Leaders Struggle to Hold On," The New York Times 26 June 2005, 4.
  12. ^ "Estadísticas de la Iglesia en España, 2005". Retrieved 2007-05-05. 
  13. ^ "Eurobarometer 69 - Values of Europeans - page 16". Retrieved 2009-03-24. 
  • "Survey" (in Español). Sociological Research Center -  

Further reading

  • Callahan, William J. The Catholic Church in Spain, 1875-1998 (1998; reprint 2012)
  • Jedin, Hubert, and John Dolan, eds. History of the Church, Volume X: The Church in the Modern Age (1989)
  • Lannon, Frances. Privilege, Persecution, and Prophecy. The Catholic Church in Spain 1875-1975. (Oxford UP, 1987)
  • Payne, Stanley G. Spanish Catholicism: An Historical Overview (1984)
  • Relaño Pastor, Eugenia. "Spanish Catholic Church in Franco Regime: A Marriage of Convenience," Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte: Internationale Zeitschrift für Theologie und Geschichtswissenschaft (2007) 20#2 pp 275–287.
  • Vincent, Mary. "Spain", in Tom Buchanan and Martin Conway, eds., Political Catholicism in Europe, 1918–1965 (Oxford 1996)
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