History of Roman Catholicism in Portugal

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The History of Roman Catholicism in Portugal is part of the worldwide history of the Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome. The Roman Catholic Church is the world's largest Christian organisation. It is Portugal's largest religion and its former state religion, and has existed in the territory since the Iberian Peninsula was ruled by the Roman Empire.

There are an estimated nine million baptised Catholics in Portugal (84% of the population), in twenty dioceses, served by 2789 priests. 19% of the national population attend mass and take the sacraments regularly (although a larger number wish to be baptized, married in the church, and receive last rites).

In 2010, the average age of priests was 62.[1]


Roman Catholicism was introduced to what is now Portugal under the Roman Empire in the first half of the first millennium AD. The modern Portuguese state was founded in 1139 by Afonso Henriques during the Reconquista, in which the Catholic kingdoms of the northern Iberian Peninsula reconquered the South from the Islamic Moors. Crusaders from other Catholic realms aided the reconquest, which Portugal finished in 1249.

Exploration and the creation of the Portuguese Empire from the early 15th century onward spread Catholicism to Portuguese colonies in Africa, Asia and South America. The Lusophone countries of Angola, Brazil, Cape Verde, Mozambique, São Tomé e Principe and Timor-Leste all have Catholic majorities as a result.[2] The state of Goa, India, was also part of the Portuguese Empire and a large Goan Catholic minority remains.[3]

The Portuguese Republic, established in 1910, abolished Catholicism as state religion.[4] The right-wing Estado Novo regime from 1932 to 1974 re-established state Catholicism, which was subsequently disestablished along with the regime.[5]


Within Portugal, the hierarchy consists of archbishops and bishops. At the top of the hierarchy is the archbishop who is known as the Patriarch of Lisbon. The remainder of the dioceses of Portugal, each headed by a bishop, includes:


Portugal is also the location of one of the major Catholic shrines and Marian pilgrimage sites. In the city of Fátima, in the municipality of Ourém, it honors Our Lady of Fátima.

The northern city of Braga is an important Catholic center in Portugal. A Portuguese saying which lists characteristics of different cities states that "Braga prays".[6] Besides Braga Cathedral, it also has the sanctuary of Bom Jesus do Monte.

One of the routes on the Way of St. James, a major Catholic pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Spain, is the Portuguese route (Portuguese: Caminho Português), starting from Lisbon Cathedral and spanning 610km. Among those who have taken it was Queen Isabel of Portugal, who was later canonized, during the 14th century.[7]

Portuguese Popes

Two Popes have been born in what is now Portugal, although only the latter was ever a subject of a country by that name. Damasus I was born in what is now Portugal in 306, and his reign as Pope from 366 to 384 saw the Scriptures translated to Latin. He is now a Saint, with his feast celebrated on December 11.[8]

Pedro Julião, born in Lisbon around 1215, was Pope as John XXI from 1276 to 1277.


See also