Holy Catholics!

Santiago de Compostela, where St. James is buried and one of the biggest pilgrimages in Europe

¡Madre mía, qué calor! Today it was a whopping 90° F here in beautiful Córdoba! Note to self, pack away all denim because it is already too hot! I still cannot get over how warm it is in Andalucía, but the good weather automatically puts me in a GREAT mood! Not to mention today began my 10 day vacation for Semana Santa (Holy Week) which is the week leading up to Easter and a massive holiday in Spain with tons of religious processions. I am very lucky because Semana Santa is most celebrated here in Andalucía, which means I’ll get to see the best of it. I will post more within the next week about Semana Santa after the processions start on Sunday. Sidenote, I am also super excited because my academic (life) adviser/favorite MHC professor, Nieves, is coming to Cordoba for Semana Santa. Wahooooo-happy dance!

Anyways, for now I will attempt to delve into the rather complex and touchy topic of religion in Spain. If I offend anyone, I apologize in advance. So in case you haven’t figured it own, Spain is an incredibly Catholic country. You walk down the street and more likely than not you will run into a church or something with a cross on it. Almost everyone I know has a saint’s name or is named after someone in the Bible. I even know about 5 Jesús and about a billion Marías. There are Catholic religious holidays almost every month, and they still teach religion in my public school. And by religion, it’s only Catholicism. In Spain to be a Christian is to be a Catholic. I think almost all of my fourth graders will go through first communion next month, and were shocked when I told them that my sister (who is also in 4th grade) will not have first communion because she is not in fact Catholic-even more of a shock. A priest came into my first grade class on Ash Wednesday to put ash on all my kids foreheads. Catholicism is everywhere here, an integral part of Spanish culture.

After scrounging around online, I have found some interesting stats. I think about 75% of Spaniards consider themselves to be Catholic while about 95% have been baptized. And 20% don’t identify with any religion, i.e. baptized Catholics that are only Catholic on the holidays. That leaves about 2% of other faiths. Wow.

So you hear these things and you think, my god, how can a baptized Episcopalian turned atheist turned apathetic, meditating, trying-to-find-spirituality blonde American girl who knows a heck of a lot about religion in the Middle Ages but not much about nowadays, even BEGIN to fit in such a resounding Catholic country? Well here is the thing (actually one of the most fascinating things about Spain in my opinion), Spain is actually not that religious, or religious in the sense that we are used to in the States; I’ve had loads of people say to me “non-practicant catholic”. Back home, when someone is “religious” you tend to think of them as Evangelical, fiery, God-fearing Christians, right? Or as my friend Natalie so eloquently puts it (imagine with a nice southern twang), “Bible carrying, crucifix wearing, honk if you love Jesus people.”

Yeah, that doesn’t really fly here in Spain. In fact, most Spaniards do not participate regularly in religious worship. Although a majority of Spaniards are Catholics, most, especially those of the younger generation, ignore the Church’s conservative moral doctrines. My god, same-sex marriage has been legal here since 2005! Yeah that’s right, there is legal gay marriage in one of the most Catholic countries in the world and NOT in the States. Ironic? You see nuns walking down the streets on cell phones and bicycles, women wear scandalously divine outfits to weddings, and many church holidays are days for young people to celebrate and party it up!

Now, Spain as a country was founded on a religious religious struggle mainly between Catholicism and Islam. After centuries of the Reconquista, in which Christian fought to drive out the Muslims, the infamous Spanish Inquistion against Muslims and Jews was established by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to complete the religious purification of the Peninsula. In the centuries that followed Spain saw itself as the pioneer of Catholicism and doctrinal purity. Since then Spain has gone back and forth from being a Catholic state to religious freedom. Under Franco’s dictatorship, Catholicism was the only recognized religion. Even now it’s a difficult issue in government and politics.

As much as it bothers me to see such overwhelming religious advertisements here, at the same time, having lived in Spain for so long, and spent so much time about religious and non-religious people here, I have come to realize that it is an entirely different situation from back home in the States. Honestly it doesn’t bother me as much here, and you certainly don’t have people who just throw around random stuff from the Bible, making assumptions about other people, or trying to convert people. People don’t ram their religious beliefs with politics. Though I do think Spain has a ways to go in terms of acceptance and understanding of other religions. Religion is very personal and collective here, if that is even possible. Personal in your beliefs and worship, collective in celebration I suppose-So complicated trying to explain it! Spain is inherently Catholic; it’s just part of their culture. But they don’t have to stand on the side of the road waving “I love Jesus” signs or have those Jesus fish bumper stickers to show that they are Christians. Rather ironic again since a straight week of penitents parading masked through the streets chanting and carrying enormous, ostentatious statues, and silver platforms, candles, and waving smelly incense around all in the name of Jesus is about to begin. But that’s only for a week out of the year. I suppose you gotta get your spiritual, penitent side out before beginning hiding it again for two weeks of partying for Fería in May. Oh Spain!

Nazarenos (penitents) during Semana Santa (don’t worry they dressed like this LONG before the KKK)


Nazarenos (penitents) during Semana Santa

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5 Comments on “Holy Catholics!

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  1. That is definitely true. Andalucía is probably one of the most traditional, religious areas in Spain. However, the Church is still a powerful organization in Spain that receives quite a bit of money from the government in Madrid.

  2. I would add that the religiousness of Spaniards does vary between regions. The south is often highly catholic, whereas here in Catalonia the church doesn’t really exert the same influence.

  3. Gracias! It is such a complicated and rather touchy topic here, I debated even attempting to write about it and risking offending people or getting it wrong. Let me know if you have anything to add 🙂

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