Facts on Christianity & Spirituality in Portugal

Portugal is mostly Catholic, but many other faiths still thrive.
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Portugal is a country on the Iberian Peninsula, bordering Spain, with an overwhelmingly Catholic population. The Portuguese people have a rich and fascinating religious history. Even today, there are a number of religious and spiritual traditions thriving in the nation. Among the prevailing faiths in Portugal are Catholicism, Anglican and Protestant Christianity, Islam, Judaism and Portuguese folk religion.

1 Catholicism

With at least 80 percent of Portuguese citizens claiming to be Catholics, Catholicism is by far the nation's predominant religion. In fact, the concentration of Catholics in Portugal is the highest in all of Western Europe. Portugal became Christian when it was geographically part of the Roman Empire. Because the Catholic Church preceded the establishment of Portugal as a nation, Catholicism influenced and shaped its development. Even though church and state are officially separated, the two still form a unified culture in Portugal. Most Portuguese holidays and festivals are Catholic in origin, and the nation's moral, ethical and legal codes originate from Catholic teachings. Not surprisingly, Portugal is home to an abundance of Catholic churches, schools, seminaries, monasteries, convents and other institutions.

2 Anglican, Protestant and Other Christian Denominations

Anglicans in Portugal are associated with the Lusitanian Church. Organized in 1880 by the American Episcopal Church, it was initially composed of Catholic priests in Lisbon who formed congregations using a Portuguese translation of the 1662 English Prayer Book. Today, there is complete integration between the Lusitanian Church and the Anglican Church. Protestants and other Christians, while relatively few in number, still have a presence in Portugal. These non-Catholic, non-Anglican Christian denominations include Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Orthodox Christians and Brazilian Syncretic Christians.

3 Islam

Islam spread to Portugal from Africa and the Middle East during the early Muslim conquests of Spain, but it did little to oust Christianity, already well-established in Portugal. By the mid-1100s, the first king of Portugal had recovered much of the conquered Islamic territories and established a close relationship with the Catholic pope. Today, Portugal's Muslim community is relatively small and consists of immigrants from Morocco and former Portuguese colonies in Africa.

4 Judaism

While Jews have existed in Portugal since the fifth century, the current Portuguese Jewish community is small and concentrated in Lisbon. Because of its history of intolerance toward Jews, dating from the Spanish Inquisition, Portugal had no synagogue or organized Jewish religious services until the 1970s. In northern Portugal, there were once communities of Marranos, descendants of Jews who adopted Christianity to escape oppression; as a result, the Marrano religion was a blend of Judaism and Christianity. During the Second World War, under Nazi persecution, Portugal offered Jews an escape route by issuing transit visas; however, Jews were not welcomed again in Portugal for decades. Currently, Jews are respected and considered an important part of Portugal's multicultural heritage.

5 Portuguese Folk Religion

There are many religious folk customs in Portugal, some of which are parenthetical to but separate from the Catholic Church. Often these are found in Portuguese rural communities where worship of saints and religious festivals are popular. The pilgrimage to the shrine at Fátima, for example, attracts hundreds of thousands of believers every year. Catholicism, folk customs and superstition are commonly merged in the religious practices of Portuguese Catholics. Spiritual practices that are outside Christianity and the Catholic Church include witchcraft, magic, sorcery, palm reading, faith healing, neo-paganism and other occult traditions.

Shannon Leigh O'Neil, a New York City-based arts and culture writer, has been writing professionally since 2008. Her articles have appeared in "GO Magazine," "The New York Blade" and "HX Magazine," as well as online media. O'Neil holds a Master of Arts in modern art history from the City College of New York, where she also studied French and minored in classical languages.