Minorities vs. majorities: Making Visible Religious Diversity in Madrid (Spain)

Francisco Diez de Velasco (fradive@ull.edu.es). University of La Laguna (Canary Islands, Spain)

XXI Quinquennial World Congress of the International Association for the History of Religions (IAHR), Erfurt, Germany, 25 August 2015. Panel: Religious places in urban space (Panel Chairs: Marian Burchardt, Maria Chiara Giorda)

The purpose of this contribution is, using the legal framework of the religious minorities in Spain as the main classification criterion, to share views, providing some images and examples from which to reflect on the increased visibilization of the non-Catholic religious groups in Madrid. From its almost total invisibility in Franco's time there has been a process of increase of presence in Spanish urban spaces, and Madrid is an interesting example of the combination of marginalization of minorities (in some cases), but also of extreme visibilization of some other religious groups due to the emblematic space that is Madrid as the capital of Spain.

Madrid includes a large number of places of worship (more than 800) of religious minorities, on the line of the other big capital, Barcelona.

Cult places in Madrid (879) and Barcelona (863) from the "Directorio del OBPRE (Observatorio del Pluralismo Religioso en España)"

But Madrid presents a particularity: the presence of emblematic buildings, large places of worship, great temples, exceeding sometimes the needs of the followers in Madrid of the groups that built them and showing an evident commitment to an outstanding visibility.

The symbolic value of Madrid as capital of Spain seems to be important in this fact, but perhaps also that Madrid is a benchmark for the Spanish-speaking areas of the world. Following the ideology of the Spanish Empire, based on the denial of religious difference, the question of majorities/minorities wasn't posed. Somehow the case of Franco will be a continuation, with inconsistencies, of the foregoing. Inconsistencies because there is evidence of an attitude of tolerance toward Jews, Orthodox Greek, and after the Second Vatican Council towards evangelical groups and another religious groups, but a tolerance which prevented as far as possible the free exercise based on the action of proselytizing, the axiom was the classic Nationalcatholicism that identifies Spanishness and Catholicism. Then non-Catholic places of worship were to be implemented and managed with extreme discretion.

With democracy the parameters changed, establishing a theoretical model of complete religious freedom. But in fact it was established differences between religions according to the level of cooperation with the State. In Spain the legal-religious field may be analysed detecting five categories, revealing a context branded by differences and privileges. The groups that can be included in each one of them have boosted its visibility, many of them opting for Madrid as main center, where they built their most spectacular places of worship.

Minority religions have opted for a strategy of oversize of its headquarters in Madrid, although not in all cases...

We will review some examples of the processes of overvisibilization based on that five categories or levels of cooperation.

LEVEL 1) Catholic Church

Is held by Catholicism, explicitly recognized in the Constitution of 1978 in article 16.3.


Art. 16.3:“There will be no state religion. The public authorities shall take into account the religious beliefs of Spanish society and shall maintain consequent links of co-operation with the Catholic Church and other faiths”.

These relations are based on international agreements signed between the Spanish State and the Holy See in 1979.
With notable privileges in the educational sphere and in the financing.

The visibilization of Catholicism is maximum, in Madrid it includes a huge cathedral finished in 1993 (the first stone in 1883) (the diocese created in 1885) 

Madrid, Almudena's cathedral

LEVEL 2) Confessions with agreements signed in 1992

Are included three religions that signed co-operation agreements with the Spanish State in 1992:

     -Evangelical Christians,
     -Jews and

The confessions with agreements enjoy privileges, for example, a certain degree of state financing and the presence of confessional religious education in public centres.


Web of the CIE in 2015

Mosques in 2015: 1300


MUSLIMS in MADRID, with two of the biggest mosques in Spain
The mosque of the M-30: a comparison with Cordoba's mosque

The main mosque of UCIDE (Unión de Comunidades Islámicas de España), Madrid

BUT the option for Madrid perhaps hide the impossibility of building in most emblematic places (Córdoba or Seville) by impediments of various kinds.


2) EVANGELICAL CHRISTIANS (more than 3000 cultic centres in Spain)

Web of the FEREDE (Evangelical Federation) in 2015

See of FEREDE in Madrid

Churches associated to main embassies located in Madrid (as capital of Spain)

1) Great Britain

2) Germany


Cathedral of the Redemptor (anglican Communion) (built in 1891-1892)

Other proposals

New Evangelical Church (Iglesia nueva evangélica), Madrid, calle Belisana

Salvation Army-Templo salvacionista, calle Hermosilla, Madrid

3) JEWS (30 synagogues in Spain)

Synagogues in Spain from the "Directorio del OBPRE (Observatorio del Pluralismo Religioso en España)"


Webpage of the FCJE in 2015

The main synagogue of Madrid (see of the Jewish Spanish Federation  -FCJE-)


LEVEL 3) Notorio Arraigo

Including four religious groups that have been recognized by the State (the Ministry of Justice) as "de notorio arraigo" (well known faith or clearly taken root), but with no agreements.
 -Mormons since 2003  (23 April)
 -Jehovah’s Witnesses, since 2006  (29 June)
 -Buddhism, since 2007  (18 October)
 -Orthodox Church, since 2010  (15 April)

Mormons and the Madrid's Temple (one of the biggest in Europe)

Mormons in Spain from the "Directorio del OBPRE (Observatorio del Pluralismo Religioso en España)"

calle del Templo 2, 28030 Madrid

Jehova's Witnesses, main centre at Ajalvir (Madrid)

JW Spain from the "Directorio del OBPRE (Observatorio del Pluralismo Religioso en España)"


Betel House at Ajalvir (Madrid), main see of the JW in Sapin

Kindom Hall

Main Kingdom Hall at Ajalvir

Buddhists. Even the main centres are monasteries Madrid includes a huge centre of Soka Gakkai

Soka Gakkai's main centre at Madrid / Soka's Cultural Centre (Rivas, Madrid)

Orthodox Christianity and main churches in Madrid

Churches of the Patriarchate 
of Constantinople in Spain
(the only church not ceded by
the Catholic Church is the
Madrid's Cathedral)
(from Iglesias ortodoxas en 
España, 2015)

1) Cathedral, built in 1973

Churches of the Moscow's
Patriarchate in Spain
(from Iglesias ortodoxas en 
España, 2015)

Madrid, Church of Saint Mary's Magdalene, built in 2013

2) Romanian orthodoxy

Churches of the Romanian Orthodox
Patriarchate in Spain
Madrid's Cathedral is underconstruction

LEVEL 4) the others

Includes the religious groups that are entered in the "Registro de Confesiones Minoritarias" of the Ministry of Justice but with no subsequent agreements or recognitions.
Registration entails greater protection of the places of worship registered and also a way of simplifying many of the varying types of administrative procedures.

Some of the groups bets for a notable visibilization using Madrid as a important symbolic place...

1) e.g. Scientology

Centres of Scientology in Spain from the "Directorio del OBPRE (Observatorio del Pluralismo Religioso en España)"

New see in 2005


2) Bahá'í Faith

Baha'is in Spain from the "Directorio del OBPRE (Observatorio del Pluralismo Religioso en España)"

National Bahai Centre of Spain, Madrid  (the other National Centre is in the Canary Islands)

3) Moonies

 Espacio Ronda, see of the Federation for the World Peace/moonies (in Spain they mainatin the name Iglesia de la Unificación)


1) Sikhism (no worship place in Madrid)

Sikhs in Spain from the "Directorio del OBPRE (Observatorio del Pluralismo Religioso en España)"

2) Hinduism (Madrid is not important and had no notable buildings)

Hinduist Centres in Spain from the "Directorio del OBPRE (Observatorio del Pluralismo Religioso en España)".
Hare Krishna´s centre (Madrid)

LEVEL 5) Not visible as religious groups

Includes groups that, despite defining themselves as religious entities or churches, are not registered or the registration procedure has not been fully completed for a number of reasons (of a mere administrative nature not as in past times, by ideological reasons) by the Ministry of Justice.

Therefore, from a legal perspective, they are not correctly visibilized as such, but are generally regarded as cultural associations.

They have no interest on visibilise themselves as religious proposals, Madrid is not a place of special interest....

In conclusion

The case of sikhs seems to show a change produced in recent times (from 2010): the visibility of religious proposals in Madrid no longer seems so necessary for some groups,
    - unless national interests are involved (e.g. Russia and the Madrid headquarters and big church -perhaps a cathedral in the future?-)
    - or in the case of very centralized groups having Madrid as capital a particular organizational value (Mormons, Soka Gakkai).

The main interest is the service to communities wherever they are and they don't value the plus of representation of the buildings and sees located in Madrid.

The political circumstances that gave place to the oversizing of Madrid in the context of the gradation of levels of cooperation with the confessions is mitigated with new legislation of 2015 (new law of "notorio arraigo" that does not require major headquarters in Madrid to justify it,  less centralized registry action, new law of "jurisdicción volunaria" opening new ways of developing the religious action without the nned of signing agreements with the State) ...

And perhaps in the next the future, after the elections at the end of 2015, will be open a new path that redefine the 1979 agreements with the Holy See and subsequently all the framework of levels of cooperation that we have just seen that accorded to Madrid, where are located the headquarters of the Ministry of Justice, an outsized role.
Therefore in the future we will find more notable buildings to be located outside Madrid, as the projects of Russian churches in Tenerife or Marbella, the presence of large mosques like the main mosque at Malaga or the projected in Seville or Barcelona, or the great Pentecostal temples at Valladolid or  Fuerteventura...