Now when I grew up in the 1950s, as it happens as a Catholic child in a then basically Protestant country, I certainly viewed Spain as being one of the most religious European nations.
It was a time when Spain was in its second decade of Franco’s rule – a dictatorship that was firmly backed by the Catholic Church because it believed that his regime embodied and defended the one true religion and its one true church. There is much there for debate but that I’ll save for another day.
Today, in the post-Franco era, and especially under the socialist government, Spain has moved to being a very liberal rather than Catholic country. But what of the Spaniards themselves? What do they feel in their hearts or more specifically their souls?
It is an interesting question because on the streets of the cities, towns and villages we see acts of religious fervour that draw in all segments of society. Nor is it just Semana Santa. There is not a community in Spain that does not have its own specific version of the Virgin or a Saint to which it attaches strong devotion. When the statue is taken in procession those accompanying it represent far more than the church-going section of society.
Indeed when my mother came to visit I took her to a number of different churches for Sunday Mass and those attending made up only a very tiny percentage of the local population. Yet if it was Semana Santa or the honouring of the local religious patron or patroness the streets would have been packed with crowds.
On Sunday I attended one of the Palm Sunday processions in Ronda. The route was crowded and as there were many children involved there were grandparents, uncles and aunts, parents, brothers and sisters packing the route waving proudly to tiny Carlos and Josefa. However a young girl, and by young I mean in her late teens or early 20s, standing next to me made the sign of the cross very devoutly as the throne with the Virgin on passed by.
They say once a Catholic always a Catholic, and hence I always describe myself as a Catholic Agnostic. However the fact is that I no longer hold any loyalty or devotion to the Church of Rome but I would very much count myself as a spiritual person. Given that the Spain of today is a secular State, what beats in the Spanish heart and soul? Is it religion, a deeply held spiritualism or pure superstition coupled with perhaps tradition?