The majority of the Spanish population is Catholic. The presence of Catholicism in Spain is historically and culturally pervasive. However, in the past 40 years of secularism since Franco’s death, the role that religion plays in Spaniards’ daily life has diminished significantly. Law prevents the Spanish census from recording the religious affiliation of the population. However, in 2018, the Spanish Centre for Sociological Research estimated that 68.5% of the population identified as Catholic. A further proportion of the population identified as irreligious (16.8%) or (9.6%). Meanwhile, the remaining population identified with another religion (2.6%) or did not provide a response (2.6%).1 Estimates repeatedly indicate that religious affiliation is in a steady decline, with the proportion of Spaniards that are irreligious or growing each year.
The Spanish Centre for Sociological Research has also shown a decline in church attendance. Of the Spaniards who identify themselves as religious, 59% claim to rarely attend mass, 13.3% attend mass a few times a year, 9.9% a few times per month, 14.1% almost every Sunday, and 2.2% multiple times per week.2 This indicates that the majority of Spaniards who believe in God do not practise their faith on a regular basis. The younger generations tend to be less religious than those that are older. Meanwhile, Spaniards living in rural areas are also generally more religious.
Catholicism in Spain
Catholicism has had a longstanding influence on the culture and society of Spain since it became the official religion in 589. Catholics believe in the doctrine of God as the ‘Holy Trinity’, consisting of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. There is a church in almost every neighbourhood and town in Spain, and Christian artefacts are visible throughout the country. However, the nature of the church’s influence in Spain has shifted a lot over history.
The Catholic Church’s close alliance with Franco caused many believing Catholics to be sceptical of the clergy. It was reinstated as the state religion during his rule and retained this status until the new constitution was written after his death. While the church no longer has an official relationship to government, it continues to have economic and political ties and a close cooperative relationship.3 Some institutional scepticism remains.
Although Catholicism for many Spaniards is purely cultural, various traditions are centred on Catholic celebrations, holidays and formalities. For example, each region or city in Spain has a patron saint. This saint has a dedicated day (santo) that is celebrated as the regional day of that area. Such cultural days based on Catholic tradition often form the principal celebrations in the year and punctuate the seminal moments in the typical Spaniard’s life (e.g. santos, weddings, Christmas, Easter). Therefore, it is even common for irreligious Spaniards to attend mass with their family on Christian dates of significance, or baptise their children.
For those who are devout followers of Catholicism, there are numerous rituals one may undertake. Some people do pilgrimages (romerías) to regional shrines. The Camino de Santiago (located in the north of the country) is one of the most famous and important Christian pilgrimages. It leads to the shrine of the Apostle Saint James the Great in Galicia, where it is believed his remains are buried. Traditions also vary between regions. For example, in Andalucía, it is an Easter tradition for locals to carry ornately decorated floats of Jesus and Mary through their towns, from their parish church to the cathedral and back.
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