Things ain’t what they used to be: Religion

Things ain't what they used to be: Religion

CIVIL WEDDING: Problem-free in Benidorm 1970 Photo credit: Linda Hall

SPAIN is a Catholic country, isn’t it.  Or is it?

Both the short and the long answer are no.

Catholicism is no longer the state religion, as set out in the 1978 Constitution, although if asked, the majority of the Spanish claim to be Catholic.

Those I met and got to know through my husband – especially his family – were openly anticlerical which came as a surprise rather than a shock.

After all, I had an extremely Catholic education but took a wrong turning when the librarian in the small community where I lived recommended a book about the Spanish Inquisition when I was 15.

The fact that he was an atheist probably possibly influenced his choice of reading matter which turned me into a god-fearing agnostic.

I’d like to be able to take the credit for that phrase, but must thank Santiago Carillo, secretary general of Spain’s Communist party between 1960 and 1982.  Politics apart, Carillo probably summed up the relationship of Spain’s non-churchgoing population with the Church.

Religiosity comes to the fore in Holy Week because there’s nothing better than a lavish procession and it’s all to the good if this can be done while wearing sumptuous versions of a penitent’s robes after falling foul of the Inquisition.

In my experience, apart from christenings, first communions, weddings and funerals, churches are now practically empty except for the truly faithful.

Unlike the 1960s, many couples live together and when they do marry, only 46 per cent of Spanish weddings take place in church.  As always with a church wedding, it is and always was necessary to have a civil ceremony too.

I use the word ceremony loosely because when we married in 1970, a week before our daughter was born, we went first to the Benidorm juzgado which was then a modest building in what everyone now calls the Old Town.

To be honest  I wasn’t bothered about marrying but my husband, his family, my family and even the woman who owned the greengrocer’s assured me that we should.

That would also bypass problems about the two surnames that every Spanish child receives because at that time an illegitimate child took only its mother’s surname.

So I gave in and there I was, heavily pregnant, sitting with my prospective husband on one side of a desk and the registrar on the other.  We signed something and that was that.

“Are you having a church ceremony too?” he asked and when we said yes, explained that we’d receive the Libro de Familia – the official booklet that recorded a family’s marriage, births and deaths – at the church next day.

It was evident that Benidorm was already aware of the need to be tolerant and relaxed where moral and religious issues were concerned, unlike Madrid.

A year later, when my sister-in-law married there, she wanted a civil ceremony but was faced with countless obstacles, which included signing a document abjuring her religion and, although it was only implied, facing hellfire forever.

So, like all god-fearing agnostics, she tore up the piece of paper and decided she might as well be married in church, after all.

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Written by

Linda Hall

Originally from the UK, Linda is based in Valenca and is a reporter for The Euro Weekly News covering local news. Got a news story you want to share? Then get in touch at