By Hilary Brown

Whether you live in Spain, or are just visiting, you will find many magnificent churches and cathedrals in and around the Spanish towns. Some are small, but most are very elaborate.

Spain has struggled with religion for many years, especially between Catholicism and Islam. In the time of 410, Spain was taken over by the Visigoths who were Arian Christians and during this rule there was some expansion of this religion in Spain, however most of the native population remained Catholic. In 587 the Visigothic King converted to Catholicism and launched a movement to unify the religion.

In 718, after the Arabs raided Spain, the Muslim numbers increased, but during this time the Muslim rulers tolerated Christians and Jews. However in the Middle Ages, Spain began to see a slow reconquest of Muslim areas. In 1147, the Almohads took control of Muslim areas in Andalusia and began to treat the Christians very harshly.

After centuries of the Reconquista, when Christian Spaniards began to drive out the Muslims, the Spanish Inquisition began against the Muslims and the Jews, which was established, by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella and after years of persecution of non-Catholics, Catholicism became the state religion for Spain in 1851.

During the time of Franco, Roman Catholicism was the only religion that was legal. Other worship services could not be publicised and only the Roman Catholic Church could own property and books. The government paid priests salaries and gave money to the Churches and also assisted in the rebuilding of Church buildings damaged in the civil war. Laws were in operation whereby there was no divorce, abortion, civil marriages or the sale of contraceptives. Homosexuality and all other forms of sexual permissiveness were also banned. Any Church property was exempt from taxation, and the Church had the right to establish universities and to publish newspapers and magazines.

In 1976, the monarchy was restored in Spain and in 1978 the Spanish Constitution confirmed the right to religious freedom for all Spaniards. Although Catholicism is still the major religion in Spain, many Spaniards, especially the young, choose to ignore the teachings in politics, morals and sexuality, but the Church still plays an important part in births, marriages and deaths.


The Church in Pliego, which stands in all its glory overlooking the Plaza Major, was first completed in the 16th century. Due to the poor materials used in the building of the Church, it began to deteriorate and in 1667 there were plans to build a new Church with improved building materials. By the end of the 17th century the condition of the Church got worse and in 1720, two Knights of the Order of Santiago were sent to halt building due to a lack of resources. However, in 1778 a new Church was blessed and the old Church of Santiago was intergraded into the new Church. The Church is dedicated to the military Order of Santiago. The building has a Latin cross with a dome on a drum in the middle of the transept, a nave of five bays and six side chapels and apse. The main door, which is the oldest, has a medallion at the top with the arms of the Order of Santiago. From the old Church there is a wooden sculpture of a tutelary saint and located in the alcove of the main alter is an image of Madonna and Child; these both date back to the 16th century. In 1983 this parish Church was declared a place of Cultural Interest.

It is so worth a visit to this wonderful Church. The inside has to be seen to be appreciated. It is a quiet place where one can contemplate and escape from the outside world. After your visit, why not sit in the main square and enjoy the outside of this magnificent building whilst enjoying a cool drink and some tapas at Bar Casino. If you come after dark you will see the Church lit up in all its glory and you can listen to the bells chiming for services. At Semana Santa the Church becomes the focal point for the parades depicting the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Semana Santa has meant a great deal to me since I have lived in Pliego and I believe it brings out the true meaning of Easter.