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Spain is a major hub of Catholic Christianity.
If you visit Spain, you'll find churches and cathedrals in town centers in almost all corners of the country. Yet, there is a lot more to Spanish religion than meets the eye.
In relation to religion in Spain, Spanish Sociological Research says 68.5% of the Spanish population is Catholic, while some are self-confessed practicing Catholics. The rest are cultural Catholics or irreligious. The irreligious group contains the atheists, the agnostics, as well as non-believers who don't profess to any belief system.
To add to this heterogeneity, Spain houses more than a million Muslims. This isn't surprising, given Spain's Muslim background. And in the last couple of decades, many immigrants from former Spanish-controlled territories such as Morocco and Western Sahara, both in Africa, have made Spain their home.
In recent times, Algerian and middle-eastern refugees have also found residence in Spain. Spain also has minority groups with diverse religious identities, such as Jewish, Buddhists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Hindus and Evangelicals. These other faiths form less than 3% of the Spanish population.
If you visit Spain, join the pilgrims on their sacred walk, the Camino de Santiago or visit Romería del Rocío, in southern Spain; they say the place has healing properties.
Although today Spain is dominated by Catholicism, religion in Spain used to include elements of Celtic religious practices. The Celts, or Celtic people, were the principal inhabitants of the greater part of Central, North, and Western Europe for thousands of years before Christ was born (BC).
Their religion comprised animistic practices. The landmass comprising Spain, Portugal, and other principalities, such as Monaco and Andorra, is together called the Iberian Peninsula. When the Romans conquered this part of the world, they brought their polytheistic ideas with them.
The Romans worshipped the former Greek gods but with a changed nomenclature. So, for example, Zeus became Jupiter and Poseidon became Neptune. Once the Roman Empire stopped persecuting Christians and made it the official religion under Emperor Constantine, Spaniards began converting to this new dominant religion in greater numbers.
The missionary activities of Saint James were vital in this context. He arrived in Spain after Christ's death to spread the message of Christianity and disseminate the views of the Roman Catholic Church in areas far and wide. It's no wonder then that Saint James is the Patron Saint of the Kingdom of Spain.
A Muslim force comprising Arab Moors crossed the Mediterranean in 711 AD and took Spain for themselves. They consolidated their rule and remained in power in the Middle Ages for the next 800 odd years. This changed in 1492 when Christian forces finally captured all of Spain from the Muslims and established Catholicism firmly as Spain's religion.
Since the time of the Reconquista in the 15th century, Spain has remained a Catholic country. Protestant Churches have never found a place in Spanish territory. In the 16th century, almost everyone in Spain was, at least on paper, Catholic.
During the Spanish Inquisition, led by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand II, non-Catholics were expelled from the country! King Philip II also continued this trend in the latter part of the 16th century.
Apart from St James, there have been other Christian missionaries and priests who significantly contributed to making the Catholic religion the bedrock of Spanish society and Spanish culture.
Perhaps the most famous of the Spanish priests is Saint Ignatius of Loyola. He was born in Basque Country in Spain and was famous for his education in theology. His thoughts and ideas on Roman Catholicism gave birth to what came to be termed as Ignatian Spirituality.
The next person we are going to talk about is the patron saint of astronomers. His name is Saint Dominic of Castilla. He founded the Dominican Order and is said to have inspired people to live a life of simplicity.
The clergyman who was responsible for the spread of Catholicism in North America and Latin America in the eighteenth century was Junipero Serra of Spain. He established both the Franciscan Missions of Sierra Gorda and a total of nine Spanish missions in California. It took a really long time for the Roman Catholic Church to recognize his contributions to religious institutions. Finally, in 1988, Junipero Serra was beatified by Pope John Paul II, and was made a saint after the current Pope, Francis, completed his canonization rituals.
The missions led by the priests were generally not met with positive reactions. It's believed that the conversion to catholic religious practice in America, for the vast majority of the native population, was done by force. Various methods such as enslaving people and use of physical violence were used to convert people.
When it comes to religion in Spain, Spanish Catholic people are expected to adhere to certain rules and regulations set by the Catholic Church. However, seeing as we live in an age of economic growth where mass media and the internet reign supreme, the Spanish youth are generally not seen to be religiously conscious.
During the time of the dictatorship of General Francisco Franco from 1939 to 1975, Catholicism was officially declared the state religion. These were difficult times for the majority of the Spanish. After coming to power after the Spanish Civil war, Franco's government had made religious education mandatory in both public and private schools.
The '80s and '90s saw enormous amounts of reforms and progressive measures being introduced in Spain by the new Spanish government. It's important to note that Spain provides widespread support to LGBT activism and was one of the first countries in Europe to legalize gay marriage. Supporting these issues is not supported under Roman Catholicism. Spanish citizens have shown the world that one can remain respectful of one's customs and traditions, as well as inculcate rationality and reason in everyday matters.
The Catholic Church was up until the late '70s a major determinant in the law-making process of the country. The government was run by the nationalist party of General Franco. They were completely in alliance with the Church in running the day-to-day affairs of the country.
Many civil laws were in tune with the teachings of the state religion at the time. There were compulsory laws regarding visits to Church on Sundays for attending religious services. Parish priests held a lot of power and church services were normal daily occurrences for people in the Catholic country.
Religious freedom became non existent, and contraception, divorce, and LGBT marriage were all deemed illegal according to Catholicism. As we have already discussed before, Franco's death changed the entire atmosphere of the country. Subsequent Spanish governments have put an end to such conflicts and improved the lives of many Spanish people. By the turn of the 21st century, laws that were put in place by the Franco regime had been scrapped or changed by the Spanish constitution.
As the European polity moves forth into newer horizons, Spain could be proud to have one of the most progressive societies anywhere in the world. We hope Spain remains like that for years to come.
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