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Whilst you might not see much of the Spanish population in church every Sunday, you’ll certainly experience some dramatic examples of religious culture in the form of parades, processions, costumes and rather a lot of days off work.
If you’re of a different religion, fear not! Although communities of minority religions may be small, the rise of social media and the sheer size of the expat population means that you’re likely to find some fellow worshippers in many parts of Spain and, especially, in places such as the the Costa del Sol, where this guide is focused.
The statistics of religion in Spain
Spain is overwhelmingly Catholic, even if a lot of them don’t go to church very much.
According to the Centro de Investigaciones Sociológicas (Centre for Sociological Research), in 2015:
- Nearly 70% of respondents identified as Roman Catholic
- Only around 4% belonged to other religions, including other branches of Christianity
- Around 25% did not consider themselves to be religious at all
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The History of Religion in Spain
Spain accepted Christianity whilst under rule from Rome. This continued under various guises (including an expansion of Arianism under Visigothic rule) until the early 700sC.E., when Islamic rule claimed almost all the peninsula.
Spain under Islamic rule
The Iberian peninsula was largely under Islamic rule from the 700sC.E. until the late 1400s.
In 711, Muslim forces entered Spain. It would take them seven years to conquer the Iberian peninsula. Andalusia, where the Costa del Sol sits, was the heartland of Islamic rule.
Over the next 700 years the frontiers of Islamic Spain were, slowly but surely, pushed back until, by 1265, only the heartland around Cordoba, Malaga and Granada remained under Moorish control and, by 1492, the reconquest of the entire peninsula had been completed by “los reyes catolicos – the Catholic Monarchs” – the joint title used for Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon
The first few centuries of the Moorish occupation saw those of other religions treated kindly in the main, though there were restrictions. The 700s until the early 1000s are often referred to as a ‘golden age’ – learning flourished, and academia and the arts were prominent in society, contributed to by people of all religions.
The mid-11th Century saw the previous tolerance of diversity reversed as the Iberian peninsula was squabbled over by increasingly strict, small kingdoms, and many Christians and Jews were forced either to convert, emigrate or be killed. The BBC covers this in some detail.
After centuries of Christian fight-back and infighting between Islamic rulers, the 1400s brought with it a Christian resurgence (the fall of Granada, in 1492, is seen to be the end of Islamic rule in Spain) and the rise of the infamous ‘Spanish Inquisition’. When attempts to convert remaining Muslims and Jews failed, the Christian kings and queens of Spain soon turned to persecuting them.
Pre-Franco Catholicism in Spain
Spanish royalty sought to keep themselves separate from the Papacy for many centuries, with varying levels of success.
Catholicism became the official state religion of Spain in 1891. Spain paid clergy wages and subsidised Church activities – but that decision was reversed under the new, secular constitution of 1931. Part of Catholic church’s reaction to the withdrawing of their elevated rights was support for Francisco Franco.
Catholicism under General Franco
Francisco Franco’s regime ruled Spain from 1939-1978 (when the modern Spanish Constitution came into effect), though the man himself died in 1975.
Franco brought back Papal privileges with relish. During his rule, only Catholicism was a legally accepted religion. No services from other religions could be advertised, no other churches could own property, no other religious books could be published.
The conservative doctrines of Catholicism were also enforced. Abortions, divorce, civil marriages and homosexuality were outlawed. In return, Franco took the right to name new bishops and to veto any appointments he disagreed with.
The power of the Catholic Church was further boosted in 1953: the Church was exempt from taxation and from police interference, would receive subsidies for building work, were allowed to operate radio stations and newspapers, and were exempt from military service.
1966 saw many other religions freed from previous restrictions, but the Catholic Church retained its extraordinary privileges. The Vatican was moving to reform the Spanish Church by way of appointing interim bishops from outside the country, exerting foreign influence. This led to some young clergymen actively acting against General Franco (and a few of them ending up in prison).
King Juan Carlos de Borbon, who came to rule after Franco’s restoration of the monarchy and subsequent demise, began the process of separating church and state – and eventually ushered in the current age of democracy in 1978.
Religion in modern Spain
The Catholic Church still holds a good deal of influence in Spain, particularly in the People’s Party (one of the main two political parties) – although Spain is an increasingly secular society. It is still a very wealthy institution, and enjoys some tax exemptions.
Catholics in Spain are now, in the majority, non-practising (they observe Catholic baptisms, marriage and holy days, but will rarely attend mass).
Other Notorio arraigo, or ‘deeply rooted’ religions in Spain, such as Islam, Judaism and Protestantism, hold privileges such as civil validity of their marriage services and some tax benefits.
Religious freedom in Spain
The Constitution specifies freedom of religion and freedom of worship, but does contain a little loophole that can limit public expression if it’s necessary to maintain public order.
Religious education is not mandatory, though courses for many religions are available. If a student chooses not to study a particular religion, they must instead take a general course on social, cultural and religious matters.
Religion-motivated hate crimes are thankfully uncommon in Spain, although they do happen. Most result in damage to property rather than to person. Most are committed against Muslims. See this report for more information.
Face coverings (mainly relevant for Muslim women) do not face any nationwide restrictions. Barcelona has banned full face veils, as have a few other municipalities, but they are allowed on the Costa del Sol.
Muslims have been the target of hate-speech and attacks on mosques in Spain. This has only been escalated by increasing Muslim immigration to the country. They often face community resistance to the building of places of worship and sometimes have difficulties obtaining planning permits. This has been the case in Andalucia.
Jews have faced some of the same problems with obtaining planning permits for synagogues and, as is sadly the case in most of the world, antisemitism does permeate some sectors of society. Hate speech on social media is common.
Places of worship on the Costa del Sol
We will be producing lists for other regions of Spain as we produce specific guides for those areas.
Catholicism on the Costa del Sol
If you wish to worship as a Catholic on the Costa del Sol, you’re in luck. You’ll be hard-pressed to find even a small village without a Catholic church. This guide is meant to be brief, so I won’t list them all here – but Visit Costa del Sol have compiled a good list.
Those wishing to attend church can find mass celebrated in several languages other than Spanish, including English, French & Polish.
Even if you are not Catholic, it’s worth paying a visit to some of the churches and cathedrals on the Costa del Sol. The architecture can be beautiful and you can learn a lot about the history of the region.
Other Christian churches on the Costa del Sol
Church of England
|Benalmadena||Bil Bil Songs of Praise|
|Calahonda||Ermita De San Miguel|
|Costa del Sol East||St Andrew’s Church|
|Costa del Sol West||St Andrew’s Church|
|Malaga||The Chaplaincy of Saint George|
|Nerja||Nerja and Almunecar Anglican Church|
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon Church)
You can find LDS meeting places anywhere in the world using this web tool.
|Malaga||Malaga 1st Ward||+34 952 312 703|
|Mijas||Mijas Internacional||+34 952 469 392|
|Nerja||Nerja Branch||+34 952 526 206|
Evangelical (baptist) churches
|Benalmadena||Elim Family Fellowship|
|Calahonda||The Evangelical Christian Fellowship|
|Calahonda||Calahonda Baptist Church|
|Fuengirola||The Ark Christian Fellowship|
|Fuengirola||Costa del Sol Bible School||+34 663 706 806|
|Los Boliches||Los Boliches Evangelical Church|
|Marbella||International Christian Fellowship Marbella|
|Nerja||Fellowship of The King|
|Nerja||Community Bible Fellowship||+34 95 252 17 76|
|Puerto Banus||Puerto Banus Christian Center|
|Torre del Mar||Torre del Mar Presbyterian Church|
|Torremolinos||Torremolinos International Church|
|Benalmadena||+34 952 567 362|
|Fuengirola||+34 952 666 223|
|Marbella||+34 952 788 855|
|Nerja||+34 952 967 574|
Islam on the Costa del Sol
Malaga is home to the largest mosque in Spain. Saudi Arabia financed the place of worship, complete with a 50-metre-high minaret, to the tune of €22million.
|Fuengirola||Mezquita del Centro Cultural Suhail|
|Marbella||Mezquita del Rey Abdulaziz|
|Costa del Sol East||St Andrew’s Church|
|Malaga||Andalusia Cultural Center|
Judaism on the Costa del Sol
|Malaga||Comunidad Israelita de Málaga|
|Marbella||Comunidad Judia de Marbella|
|Torremolinos||Beth Minzi Synagogue and Community Center|