To the average tourist, Spain brings to mind paella, flamenco and bullfighting, while the less-traveled Portugal promises quiet beaches and a wine lover’s retreat. Beyond these popular images, the Iberian Peninsula has a diverse array of cultures and people groups.
Before the time of Christ, Iberia saw settlers from Greece and Phoenicia as well as from Celtic people groups, while in later centuries the Romans, Germanic tribes and Islamic Moors came and left their influence as well. During the medieval period the Kingdoms of Asturias and Catalonia held great cultural and political influence prior the unification of Spain.
As with many current European nation-states, the remaining indigenous minority language groups are found around the rim of the region, largely in the north, from Catalonia in the east to Galicia in the west.
The Church among Ibero-Romance Speakers
Christianity first appeared in the Iberian peninsula in the first century A.D. as the Gospel spread through the Roman Empire. In fact, some speculate that the Apostle Paul intended to come here himself to preach the good news. The Catholic church has long-established roots among these people groups and has held significant cultural and political power for centuries; it is more recently notable for colluding with the Franco regime from which it received preferential treatment as the de-facto state religion. The vestiges of Christendom are ever-present throughout the Iberian Peninsula in the form of churches and roadside memorials scattered across the country. Festivals and holidays contain imagery and practices that hearken back to strong Catholic devotion.
A Catholic majority remains in both Spain and Portugal, though atheism and agnosticism are on the rise. Evangelicals remain few in number; less than 1% of the population of Spain and around 3% in Portugal are Evangelical. In 2017 it was reported that evangelical places of worship have increased to over 4,000, but the case remains dire among linguistic groups on the fringes.
In the Basque Country there are nearly 100 evangelical churches through the medium of Castilian Spanish, but not a single Basque speaking evangelical church exists. Similar patterns play out among the other minority groups. Churches in Catalonia are often planted through the medium of Castilian, even in municipalities where Catalan is the majority language.
Linguistic family tree
The Ibero-Romance branch of the Indo-European language family has two geographically determined branches. Indigenous minority languages groups included in the first branch, East Iberian, include Aragonese and Catalan (including Valencian and Balearic/Insular). Though it is a language isolate unrelated to Romance languages, Basque is included in this group for our purposes.
The second branch, West Iberian, includes:
- Asturian (including Leonese)
Where they're spoken
Several provinces within Spain are autonomous communities where minority languages are co-official with Castilian. These include Galicia, Catalonia, Basque Country and parts of Navarre. Many other autonomous communities contain regions where minority languages are spoken, most receiving some legal recognition but not co-official status.
Galician and Asturian are also spoken in parts of northern Portugal, as well as Extremaduran and Fala (in a small pocket) on the eastern border. Basque and Catalan are spoken within France in regions that border Spain in the Pyrenees. Catalan is also the official language of Andorra, a microstate lying between France and Spain.
Created with images by Héctor J. Rivas - "untitled image" • Guillermo Álvarez - "untitled image" • MemoryCatcher - "santiago de compostela cathedral rooftop fence stone" • Héctor Martínez - "Discovering Oviedo, Asturias." • IreneLasus - "city sunset girona houses landscape church cathedral" • PJS - "stone crosses rock carving antique" • Mathilde Cureau - "Palma de Mallorca’s cathedral" • Luisfpizarro - "easter seville festival" • Chris Slupski - "Independence protest" • Guillermo Álvarez - "Playa del Silencio" • Calvin Hanson - "Europe focus on Globe in Swedish" Statistics on Evangelicalism are provided by Operation World's demographic information on Spain and Portugal as well as Evangelical Focus's recent article entitled, "Spain surpasses 4,000 evangelical places of worship for the first time".