Religion in Spain

Religious beliefs and organizations

Spain is a Christian country where some 77 per cent of the population claims to belong to the Catholic Church and less than 1 per cent Protestant. The majority of the world’s religious and philosophical movements have religious centres or meeting places in the major cities and resort areas, including English and American churches.

The right to freedom of religion is guaranteed under the Spanish constitution, although some extreme sects are prohibited.

There have traditionally been close relations between the state and the church, although Catholicism is no longer the state religion and the Catholic Church has lost much of its previous influence under Franco. In fact, Spain is fast turning its back on its Catholic past and increasingly passing laws contrary to the church’s teaching (such as homosexual marriages and divorce).

Like a number of other countries, Spain is finding it difficult to attract new recruits to the priesthood and has had to resort to importing priests from Latin America (while convents have imported teenage nuns from India). The shortage is reaching crisis proportions, with some 3,000 priests retiring each year and just 250 new ordinations. However, although many Spaniards are ambivalent about religion and church attendances are falling, around 20 per cent of the population attends mass regularly and many Spanish families still spend more than €2,000 on a child’s first Holy Communion.

Spain has a wealth of historic churches and cathedrals, many in desperate need of restoration, including the cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, one of the most important holy places in Christendom (it once rivalled Rome) and a place of pilgrimage since the ninth century. It’s necessary to dress appropriately to enter places of worship and if you’re wearing shorts (short trousers, not underwear!), a vest or have bare feet, you won’t be admitted. Women may also be refused entry if they’re wearing short skirts or ‘scanty’ tops. Like churches, shrines and sanctuaries are holy places and should be treated with respect.

Foreign church services are listed in English-language publications such as SUR in English on the Costa del Sol, and include all major and many minor religions. Notices of Catholic services are posted outside churches and at strategic points in towns (mass is held in foreign languages in some churches).

This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain.
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