Religion in Spain

Religious affiliation in Spain (2016).[1]

  Catholic (67.8%)
  non believer (18.4%)
  atheist (9.1%)
  no answer (2.5%)
  other religion (2.2%)

Catholic Christianity is by far the largest religion in Spain. According to a study by the Spanish Centre for Sociological Research, in 2016 about 68% of Spaniards self-identify as Catholic Christians, 2% as followers of other faiths (including Islam, Protestant Christianity and Buddhism etc.), and about 27% identify as atheists or non-believers.[1] Most Spaniards do not participate regularly in religious worship. This same study shows that of the Spaniards who identify themselves as religious, 59% barely ever goes to mass, 16% go to mass few times a year, 9% few times per month and 15% every Sunday or multiple times per week.[1] Although a majority of Spaniards are Catholics, most, especially those of the young generation, ignore the Church's moral doctrines on issues such as pre-marital sex, sexual orientation or contraception.[2][3][4][5] The total number of parish priests has shrunk from 24,300 in 1975 to 19,307 in 2005. The number of nuns also dropped by 6.9% to 54,160 between 2000 and 2005.[6]


While Roman Catholicism is still the largest religion in Spain, most Spaniards—and especially the younger—choose to ignore the Catholic teachings in morals, politics or sexuality, and do not attend Mass regularly.[7][8] Agnosticism and atheism enjoy social prestige, according to the general Western European secularization.[4][5][7][9][10] Culture wars are far more related to politics than religion, and the huge lack of popularity of typically religion-related issues like creationism prevent them from being used in such conflicts. Revivalist efforts by the Catholic Church and other creeds have not had any significant success out of their previous sphere of influence.[8][9] According to the Eurobarometer 69 (2008), only 3% of Spaniards consider religion as one of their three most important values, even lower than the 7% European average.[11] And according to the 2005 Eurobarometer Poll:[12]

Evidence of the secular nature of contemporary Spain can be seen in the widespread support for the legalization of same-sex marriage in Spain over 70% of Spaniards support gay marriage according to a 2004 study by the Centre for Sociological Research.[13] Indeed, in June 2005 a bill was passed by 187 votes to 147 to allow gay marriage, making Spain the third country in the European Union to allow same-sex couples to marry. This vote was split along conservative-liberal lines, with Spanish Socialist Workers' Party (PSOE) and other left-leaning parties supporting the measure and People's Party (PP) against it. Proposed changes to the divorce laws to make the process quicker and to eliminate the need for a guilty party are also popular.

The Basharat Mosque in Pedro Abad, of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, was the first mosque to be built in modern Spain.

The recent waves of immigration, especially during and after the 1990s, have led to an increasing number of Muslims. Nowadays, Islam is the second largest religion in Spain, after Roman Catholicism. A study made by Unión de comunidades islámicas de España showed that there were almost 1,900,000 inhabitants of Muslim background living in Spain in 2016.[14] The vast majority was composed of immigrants and descendants originating from Morocco and other African countries. Almost 780,000 of them had Spanish nationality.[15]

Jews account for less than 1 percent of the population, mostly in Barcelona, Madrid and Murcia. Protestantism has also been boosted by immigration, but remains a small testimonial force among native Spaniards. Spain has been seen as a graveyard for foreign missionaries among Evangelical Protestants.[9] Protestant churches have about 1,200,000 members.[16][17]

Along with these waves of immigration, an important number of Latin American people, who are usually strong Catholic practitioners, have helped the Catholic Church to recover part of the attendance that regular Masses (Sunday Mass) used to have in the sixties and seventies and that was lost in the eighties among native Spaniards.

During the last decade, the involvement of the Catholic Church in politic affairs, through special groups such as Opus Dei, the Neocatechumenal Way or the Legion of Christ, especially personated through important politicians in the right-wing People's Party, has increased again. Old and new media, which are property of the Church, such as the COPE radio network, have also contributed to this new involvement in politics. The Church is no longer seen as a neutral and independent institution in political affairs and it is generally aligned with the opinion and politics of the People's Party. This implication has had, as a consequence, a renewed criticism from important sectors of the population (especially the majority of left-wing voters) against the Church and the way in which it is economically sustained by the State.


The 7th-century Visigothic church of San Pedro de la Nave
Royal Collegiate Church of Santa María la Mayor in Antequera, Andalusia

Spain, it has been observed, is a nation-state born out of religious struggle mainly between Catholicism and Islam, but also against Judaism (and, to a lesser extent, Protestantism).


Most of the Iberian Peninsula first accepted Christianity while still part of the Roman Empire. As Rome declined, Germanic tribes invaded most of the lands of the former empire. In the years following 410 the Visigoths - who had converted to Arian Christianity around 360 - occupied Spain. The Visigothic Kingdom established its capital in Toledo; its kingdom reached its high point during the reign of Leovigild (568-586). Visigothic rule led to a brief expansion of Arianism in Spain, however the native population remained staunchly Catholic. In 587 Reccared, the Visigothic king at Toledo, converted to Catholicism and launched a movement to unify doctrine. The Council of Lerida in 546 constrained the clergy and extended the power of law over them under the blessings of Rome.

In 711 an Arab raiding party led by Tariq ibn-Ziyad crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, then defeated the Visigothic king Roderic at the Battle of Guadalete. Tariq's commander, Musa bin Nusair then landed with substantial reinforcements, and by 718 the Muslims dominated most of the peninsula, establishing Islamic rule as a factor in the peninsula until 1492. During this period the number of Muslims increased greatly through the migration of Arabs and Berbers, and the conversion of Christians to Islam (known as Muladis or Muwalladun) with the latter forming the majority of the Islamic-ruled area by the end of the 10th century. Most Christians who remained adopted Arabic culture, and these Arabized Christians became known as Mozarabs. While under the status of dhimmis the Christian and Jewish subjects had to pay higher taxes than Muslims and could not hold positions of power over Muslims.

The Great Mosque of Córdoba turned church after the Reconquista.

The era of Muslim rule before 1055 is often considered a "Golden Age" for the Jews as Jewish intellectual and spiritual life flourished in Spain.[18] Only in the northern fringes of the peninsula did Christians remain under Christian rule. Here they established the great pilgrimage centre of Santiago de Compostela.

In the Middle Ages, Spain saw a slow Christian re-conquest of Muslim territories. In 1147, when the Almohads took control of Muslim Andalusian territories, they reversed the earlier tolerant attitude and treated Christians harshly. Faced with the choice of death, conversion, or emigration, many Jews and Christians emigrated.[19] Christianity provided the cultural and religious cement that helped bind together those who rose up against the Moors and sought to drive them out. Christianity and the Catholic Church helped shape the re-establishment of European rule over Iberia.

After centuries of the Reconquista, in which Christian Spaniards fought to drive out the Muslims, King Ferdinand II of Aragon and Queen Isabella I of Castile established the Spanish Inquisition in 1481 to complete the religious purification of the Iberian Peninsula from Muslim and Jewish thought and practice. In the centuries that followed, Spain saw itself as the bulwark of Catholicism and doctrinal purity. Spain carried Catholicism to the New World and to the Philippines, but the Spanish kings insisted on independence from papal "interference" - bishops in the Spanish domains were forbidden to report to the Pope except through the Spanish crown. In the 18th century Spanish rulers drew further from the papacy, banishing the Jesuits from their empire in 1767. The Spanish authorities abolished the Inquisition in the 1830s, but even after that, religious freedom was denied in practice, if not in theory.

Catholicism became the state religion in 1851, when the Spanish government signed a Concordat with the Holy See that committed Madrid to pay the salaries of the clergy and to subsidize other expenses of the Roman Catholic Church as a compensation for the seizure of church property in the Desamortización de Mendizábal of 1835-1837. This pact was renounced in 1931, when the secular constitution of the Second Spanish Republic imposed a series of anticlerical measures that threatened the Church's hegemony in Spain, provoking the Church's support for the Francisco Franco uprising five years later.[20] In the ensuing Civil War, alleged Communists and Anarchists in Republican areas killed about 7,000 priests.

Under Franco

The advent of the Franco regime saw the restoration of the church's privileges. During the Franco years, Roman Catholicism was the only religion to have legal status; other worship services could not be advertised, and only the Catholic Church could own property or publish books. The Government not only continued to pay priests' salaries and to subsidize the Church, it also assisted in the reconstruction of church buildings damaged by the war. Laws were passed abolishing divorce and civil marriages as well as banning abortion and the sale of contraceptives. Homosexuality and all other forms of sexual permissiveness were also banned. Catholic religious instruction was mandatory, even in public schools. Franco secured in return the right to name Roman Catholic bishops in Spain, as well as veto power over appointments of clergy down to the parish priest level. In 1953 this close cooperation was formalized in a new Concordat with the Vatican that granted the church an extraordinary set of privileges: mandatory canonical marriages for all Catholics; exemption from government taxation; subsidies for new building construction; censorship of materials the Church deemed offensive; the right to establish universities, to operate radio stations, and to publish newspapers and magazines; protection from police intrusion into church properties; and exemption of military service.[20]

The proclamation of the Second Vatican Council in favor of religious freedom in 1965 provided more rights to other religious denominations in Spain. In the late 1960s, the Vatican attempted to reform the Church in Spain by appointing interim, or acting, bishops, thereby circumventing Franco's stranglehold on the country's clergy. Many young priests, under foreign influence, became worker priests and participated in anti-regime agitation. Many of them ended as leftist politicians, with some imprisoned in the Concordat prison reserved for priest prisoners. In 1966, the Franco regime passed a law that freed other religions from many of the earlier restrictions, but the law also reaffirmed the privileges of the Catholic Church. Any attempt to revise the 1953 Concordat met Franco's rigid resistance.[20]

Restoration of the monarchy

In 1976, however, King Juan Carlos de Borbon unilaterally renounced the right to name the bishops; later that year, Madrid and the Vatican signed a new accord that restored to the church its right to name bishops, and the Church agreed to a revised Concordat that entailed a gradual financial separation of church and state. Church property not used for religious purposes was henceforth to be subject to taxation, and over a period of years, the Church's reliance on state subsidies was to be gradually reduced. The timetable for this reduction was not adhered to, however, and the church continued to receive the public subsidy through 1987 (US$110 million in that year alone).[20]

It took the new 1978 Spanish Constitution to confirm the right of Spaniards to religious freedom and to begin the process of disestablishing Catholicism as the state religion. The drafters of the Constitution tried to deal with the intense controversy surrounding state support of the Church, but they were not entirely successful. The initial draft of the Constitution did not even mention the Church, which was included almost as an afterthought and only after intense pressure from the church's leadership. Article 16 disestablishes Roman Catholicism as the official religion and provides that religious liberty for non-Catholics is a state-protected legal right, thereby replacing the policy of limited toleration of non-Catholic religious practices. The article further states, however, that "The public authorities shall take the religious beliefs of Spanish society into account and shall maintain the consequent relations of cooperation with the Catholic Church and the other confessions." In addition, Article 27 also aroused controversy by appearing to pledge continuing government subsidies for private, Church-affiliated schools. These schools were sharply criticized by Spanish Socialists for having created and perpetuated a class-based, separate, and unequal school system. The Constitution, however, includes no affirmation that the majority of Spaniards are Catholics or that the state should take into account the teachings of Catholicism.[20] The Constitution declares Spain a "non-confessional" state, however it is not a laïque state like France or Mexico.

Government financial aid to the Catholic Church was a difficult and contentious issue. The Church argued that, in return for the subsidy, the state had received the social, health, and educational services of tens of thousands of priests and nuns who fulfilled vital functions that the state itself could not have performed at that time. Nevertheless, the revised Concordat was supposed to replace direct state aid to the church with a scheme that would allow taxpayers to designate a certain portion of their taxes to be diverted directly to the Church. Through 1985, taxpayers were allowed to deduct up to 10 percent from their taxable income for donations to the Catholic Church. Partly because of the protests against this arrangement from representatives of Spain's other religious groups and even some from the catholic religion itself, the tax laws were changed in 2007 so that taxpayers could choose between giving 0.52 percent of their income tax to the church and allocating it to the government's welfare and culture budgets. For three years, the government would continue to give the Church a gradually reduced subsidy, but after that the church would have to subsist on its own resources. The government would continue, however, its program of subsidizing Catholic schools, which in 1987 cost the Spanish taxpayers about US$300 million, exclusive of the salaries of teachers, which were paid directly by the Ministry of Education and Science.[20]

Democratic Spain

In a population of about 39 million at the beginning of Transition, the number of non-Catholics was probably no more than 300,000. About 290,000 of these were of other Christian faiths, including several Protestant denominations, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Mormons. The number of Jews in Spain was estimated at about 13,000 Murcia Jewish community. More than 19 out of every 20 Spaniards were baptized Catholics; about 60 percent of them attended Mass; about 30 percent of the baptized Catholics did so regularly, although this figure declined to about 20 percent in the larger cities. In 1979, about 97 percent of all marriages were performed according to the Catholic rite. A 1982 report by the church claimed that 82 percent of all children born the preceding year had been baptized in the church.[20]

Nevertheless, there were forces at work bringing about fundamental changes in the place of the church in society. One such force was the improvement in the economic fortunes of the great majority of Spaniards, making society more materialistic and less religious. Another force was the massive shift in population from farm and village to the growing urban centers, where the church had less influence over the values of its members. These changes were transforming the way Spaniards defined their religious identity.[20]

Being a Catholic in Spain had less and less to do with regular attendance at Mass and more to do with the routine observance of important rituals such as baptism, marriage, and burial of the dead. A 1980 survey revealed that, although 82 percent of Spaniards were believers in Catholicism, very few considered themselves to be very good practitioners of the faith. In the case of the youth of the country, even smaller percentages believed themselves to be "very good" or "practicing" Catholics.[20]

In contrast to an earlier era, when rejection of the church went along with education, in the late 1980s studies showed that the more educated a person was, the more likely he or she was to be a practicing Catholic. This new acceptance of the church was due partly to the church's new self-restraint in politics. In a significant change from the pre-Civil War era, the church had accepted the need for the separation of religion and the state, and it had even discouraged the creation of a Christian Democratic party in the country.[20]

The traditional links between the political right and the church no longer dictated political preferences; in the 1982 general election, more than half of the country's practicing Catholics voted for the Spanish Socialist Workers' Party. Although the Socialist leadership professed agnosticism, according to surveys between 40 and 45 percent of the party's rank-and-file members held religious beliefs, and more than 70 percent of these professed to be Catholics. Among those entering the party after Franco's death, about half considered themselves Catholic.[20]

One important indicator of the changes taking place in the role of the church was the reduction in the number of Spaniards in Holy Orders. In 1984 the country had more than 22,000 parish priests, nearly 10,000 ordained monks, and nearly 75,000 nuns. These numbers concealed a troubling reality, however. More than 70 percent of the diocesan clergy was between the ages of 35 and 65; the average age of the clergy in 1982 was 49 years. At the upper end of the age range, the low numbers reflected the impact of the Civil War, in which more than 4,000 parish priests died. At the lower end, the scarcity of younger priests reflected the general crisis in vocations throughout the world, which began to be felt in the 1960s. Its effects were felt especially acutely in Spain. The crisis was seen in the decline in the number of young men joining the priesthood and in the increase in the number of priests leaving Holy Orders. The number of seminarists in Spain fell from more than 9,000 in the 1950s to only 1,500 in 1979, even though it rose slightly in 1982 to about 1,700.[20] In 2008, there were just 1,221 students in these theological schools.[21]

Changes in the social meaning of religious vocations were perhaps part of the problem; having a priest in the family no longer seemed to spark the kind of pride that family members would have felt in the past. The principal reason in most cases, though, was the church's continued ban on marriage for priests. Previously, the crisis was not particularly serious because of the age distribution of the clergy. As the twentieth century neared an end, however, a serious imbalance appeared between those entering the priesthood and those leaving it. The effects of this crisis were already visible in the decline in the number of parish priests in Spain—from 23,620 in 1979 to just over 22,000 by 1983[20] and 19,307 in 2005.[6] New ordinations also dropped 19% from 241 in 1998 to 196 in 2008, with all-time record lows of 168 priests out of 45 million Spaniards taking their vows in 2007.[21][22][23] The number of nuns shrank 6.9% to 54,160 in the period 2000-2005 as well.[6][24] On the 21 August 2005, Evans David Gliwitzki became the first Catholic priest to get married in Spain.

Another sign of the church's declining role in Spanish life was the diminishing importance of the controversial secular religious institute, Opus Dei (Work of God). Opus Dei, a worldwide lay religious body, did not adhere to any particular political philosophy and was allegedly nonpolitical. The organization was founded in 1928 by a Spanish priest, Jose Maria Escriva de Balaguer y Albas, as a reaction to the increasing secularization of Spain's universities, and higher education continued to be one of the institute's foremost priorities. Despite its public commitment to a nonpolitical stance, Opus Dei members rose to occupy key positions in the Franco régime, especially in the field of economic policy-making in the late 1950s and the early 1960s. Opus Dei members dominated the group of liberal technocrats who engineered the opening of Spain's autarchic economy after 1957. After the 1973 assassination of Prime Minister Luis Carrero Blanco (often rumored to be an Opus Dei member), however, the influence of the institute declined sharply. The secrecy of the order and its activities and the power of its myth helped it maintain its strong position of influence in Spain; but there was little doubt that, compared with the 1950s and the 1960s, Opus Dei had fallen from being one of the country's chief political organizations to being simply one among many such groups competing for power in an open and pluralist society.[20]

Minor religions

Besides various varieties of Christianity, Islam, Judaism and the non-religious, Spain also has small groups of Hindus, Buddhists, Pagans, Taoists, and Bahá'ís.

The Benalmádena Stupa opened in 2003 in Andalusia is considered the largest in Europe.
Heathen wedding at the temple of the OCSA in Albacete.

The most visible Pagan religions in Spain are forms of Germanic Heathenism (Spanish: Etenismo), Celtism (and Druidry) and Wicca. Spanish Heathen groups include the Odinist Community of Spain — Ásatrú, which identifies as both Odinist and Ásatrú, the Asatru Lore Vanatru Assembly, the Gotland Forn Sed and Circulo Asatrú Tradición Hispánica of which four the first one is officially registered by the State; Celtist or Druidic groups include the Dun Ailline Druid Brotherhood (Hermandad Druida Dun Ailline) and the Fintan Druidic Order, both registered.[25] Amongst the Wiccan groups, two have been granted official registration: the Spanish Wiccan Association (Asociación Wicca España) and the Celtiberian Wicca (Wicca Tradición Celtíbera).[26]

Galicia is a center of Druidry (Galician: Druidaria) due to its strong Celtic heritage; the Pan-Galician Druidic Order (Galician: Irmandade Druídica Galaica) is specific to Galicia. In Basqueland, traditional Basque Gentility (Basque: Jentiltasuna) and Sorginkery (Basque: Sorginkeria), Basque witchcraft, have been revived and have ties with Basque nationalism. Sorginkoba Elkartea is a Basque Neopagan organisation active in the Basque countries.

Taoism has a presence in Spain, especially in Catalonia. It was introduced by the Chinese master Tian Chengyang in the 2000s, leading to the foundation of the Catalan Taoist Association (Asociación de Taoísmo de Cataluña) and the opening of the Temple of Purity and Silence (Templo de la Pureza y el Silencio) in Barcelona, both in 2001. The association has planned to expand the Temple of Purity and Silence as a traditional Chinese Taoist templar complex, the first Taoist temple of this kind in Europe.[27]

See also


  1. 1 2 3 Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (Centre for Sociological Research) (July 2016). "Barómetro de juio de 2016" (PDF) (in Spanish). p. 26. Retrieved 10 July 2016.
  2. Tarvainen, Sinikka (2004-09-26). "Reforms anger Spanish church". Dawn International. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
  3. "Zapatero accused of rejecting religion". Worldwide Religious News. 2004-10-15. Retrieved 2008-03-21.
  4. 1 2 Loewenberg, Samuel (2005-06-26). "As Spaniards Lose Their Religion, Church Leaders Struggle to Hold On". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  5. 1 2 Pingree, Geoff (2004-10-01). "Secular drive challenges Spain's Catholic identity". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  6. 1 2 3 "Estadísticas de la Iglesia en España, 2005" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-05-05.
  7. 1 2 Abernethy, Bobby (2006-07-07). "Catholicism In Spain". PBS. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  8. 1 2 Sciolino, Elaine (2005-04-19). "Europeans Fast Falling Away From Church". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  9. 1 2 3 MacHarg, Kenneth D. "Spain's Awakening:Is revival around the corner for Spain?". Latin American Mission. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  10. "Spain". International Fellowship of Evangelical Students. Retrieved 2008-10-21.
  11. "Eurobarometer 69 - Values of Europeans - page 16" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-03-24.
  12. "Eurobarometer on Social Values, Science and technology 2005 - page 9" (PDF). Retrieved 2007-05-05.
  13. Centre for Sociological Research
  14. Los musulmanes aumentan en España en 300.000 en cinco años|España|EL PAÍS
  15. Los musulmanes aumentan en España en 300.000 en cinco años|España|EL PAÍS
  16. "Información general - Datos estadísticos" [General information - Statistical data] (in Spanish). Federation of Evangelical Religious Entities of Spain. Archived from the original on September 30, 2011.
  17. "Protestants call for 'equal treatment'". El Pais. December 10, 2007. Retrieved November 5, 2016.
  18. Rebecca Weiner. "Sephardim". Jewish Virtual Library.
  19. The Almohads
  20. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 Text used in this cited section originally came from: Spain Country Study from the Library of Congress Country Studies project.
  21. 1 2 "Estadísticas "Día del Seminario" 2009, Conferencia Episcopal Española" (PDF). Retrieved 2009-03-24.
  22. "Acontecimientos Vocacionales, estadística de seminarios mayores 2007. Pastoral Vocacional, Hermandad de Sacerdotes Operarios". Retrieved 2009-03-24.
  23. "Acontecimientos Vocacionales, estadística de seminarios mayores 2008. Pastoral Vocacional, Hermandad de Sacerdotes Operarios". Retrieved 2009-03-24.
  24. "Estadísticas de la Iglesia en España, Diócesis de Canarias". Retrieved 2009-03-24.


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