The religious history of Spain goes back many centuries. Despite no longer having any legal position in the new democratic Spain, Roman Catholicism has been the dominant faith of the Spanish people for centuries.
Students are still expected to study religion or ethics as part of the normal curriculum in all Spanish public schools, with Roman Catholicism being the only option for the former.
There are followers of other religions in modern Spain, but as we shall see, they do not constitute a large minority.
To further illustrate the religious landscape of Spain, we’ll examine the main faiths in practice there, starting with Roman Catholicism.
Roman Catholicism in Spain
While the Spanish government no longer officially recognizes Roman Catholicism, the vast majority of the people continue to have some sort of religious ties to the church.
In a research published in April 2012, the Spanish Center for Sociological Research found that about 71% of Spaniards consider themselves to be Roman Catholic. Only 2.7% of the population adheres to a religion other than Christianity, while 24% claim no religious affiliation (including 9.4% of self-identified atheists).
There are around 47.2 million people living in Spain right now, according to estimates. According to the figures we presented above, of Spain’s total population, 33 million adhere to the Catholic faith, 7 million are agnostic, 4.5 million are atheist, and just roughly 1.2 million follow another religion.
Given these figures, one might expect gridlock on Spain’s highways every Sunday as the country’s 33 million Catholics make their way to church. As you probably suspected, this is not the situation.
The vast majority of Spaniards are not frequent attendees of religious services, according to statistics from the same research conducted in April 2012. Only 14% of people who consider themselves religious go to worship services weekly or more than once a month. Fifty-nine percent of those surveyed said they “never or hardly ever” go to church; fifteen percent go once or twice a year; and eight percent go monthly.
The Catholic Church has shrunk in recent years due to a decline in worship attendance. From a high of 24,300 in 1975, the number of Spanish parish priests dropped to 19,307 by 2005. The number of nuns likewise fell over that time, by 6.9% to 54,160, from 2000-2005.
About a quarter of all people regularly participate in religious rituals. In the middle of the twentieth century, about half of all devout Spaniards regularly attended mass; now, that number has dropped drastically.
However, the outlook for the Catholic Church’s survival is not entirely bleak. While Spanish culture has become more secular over the past few decades, a new wave of immigration from Latin America is quietly reviving the country’s Catholic Church.
Other religions besides Catholicism in Spain
The vast majority of the population of the Kingdom of Spain adheres to Roman Catholicism, while roughly 3% of the population is non-Catholic.
Muslims constitute Spain’s largest minority population. Despite the fact that all Muslims were banished from Spain during the Reconquista in 1492, many people in Spanish Morocco and Western Sahara were granted citizenship in the 19th century as a result of colonial expansion into the region.
Recent immigration, especially from Algeria and Morocco, has further boosted the Muslim population. Unión de comunidades islámicas de Espaa estimates that there are now 1.5 million people of Muslim descent residing in Spain.
Most of the locals are recent arrivals from Morocco and other parts of Africa. However, the same survey found that 30% of Muslims in Spain were born and raised there.
Jews, who currently make up around 0.14 percent of Spain’s population, were also forced to flee the country following the Reconquista. Most of the Jews living there today are recent immigrants who were let back into the nation in the nineteenth century.
About 120,000 Spaniards identify as Protestants of various denominations, making up the country’s second-largest religious minority. After Jews, the next largest religious groups are the Jehovah’s Witnesses (105,000) and the Mormons (46,000). There are more Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs in Spain now than ever before due to recent immigration.
About 300,000 Muslims call Spain home, despite the majority of its people being Roman Catholic. In 711 A.D., a group of Muslims known as Moors traveled from northern Africa to Spain. For hundreds of years, the Moors held sway over the land.
There are also about 12,000 Jews living in Spain. The Romans, who conquered Spain in 200 B.C. and reigned for the next six centuries, brought Jews to the nation for the first time. The Torah is the Jewish people’s holy book, and it was authored in Hebrew.
Religious Attitudes in Spain
Whether or not Spain is Catholic is similar to questioning whether or not the United States is Christian! Saying yes would devalue the country’s sizable non-Christian population, while no would downplay the Christian roots of its government and history.
Much of what seems deeply Catholic to outsiders is more accurately understood as unconscious vestiges or lingering habits of an earlier Catholic culture, such as the widespread (almost ubiquitous) use of biblical names like “Mara” and “José,” or unconscious routine vocabulary such as “adiós” (meaning “goodbye,” but literally translates as “to God”) and saying “Jess” when someone sneezes (the way we say “bless you”).
It’s easy to think that the Spanish people are very religious because of all the churches, religious icons, festivals, and feast days that can be found in even the tiniest towns across the country. Despite the country’s deep Catholic roots, surprising religious complexities exist in Spain, where both homosexual marriage and abortion are permitted.
The vast majority of Spaniards identify as Catholic. Catholicism has left a deep cultural and historical imprint on Spain. Since Franco’s death 40 years ago, Spain has become increasingly secular, and religion has played far less part in people’s daily lives.
Hope this article helps you gain a little perspective on Spain’s rich religious culture. Don’t forget to check our Instagram for more visual content.