History of the Religion in Brazil

History of the religion in Brazil

Popular Religion in Colonial Brazil  – Religion in Brazil was marked throughout the colonial period and beyond by a surprising lack of men of God and ecclesiastical structures specific to the bureaucracy of the Catholic Church. This lack of priestly supervision is a factor to be taken into account to explain the withdrawal of Catholicism in Brazil, which, within three decades has lost a quarter of Brazil’s population.

However, Brazil, for about 125 million Catholics (65 % of the population in 2010), looks like the most populated catholic country in the world. Religion in Colonial Brazil

A catholicism devoted to the crown


Religion1 Popular Religion in Colonial Brazil  -The history of Brazilian ecclesiastical geography has something confusing. Also, the main historical characteristic of religion in Brazil is the direct patronage of the Portuguese crown (Padroado) established by papal bull Ecclesia Universalis in 1508 and which remained in force… until the proclamation of Republic in 1889!


Rreligion2 As a reminder, the proclamation of slavery abolition in Brazil dates back to 1888 (Golden Law): So, Brazil went from a slave society to a republican regime. This mutation, far from being sufficient for equal conditions between Afro-Brazilians and the rest of the population, still had a significant impact on the appearance of religion in Brazil.

History of the religion in Brazil


religion3 In fact, on this occasion, Brazilian Church was freed from the royal or imperial guardianship of Portugal whose financial imperatives have always proved more anxious to affect income tithing to civilian expense than the creation of dioceses to promote the extension of religion in Brazil. So until the proclamation of the Republic, prelates were primarily relays of royal power.


Religion 4 Behind the amazing deficiencies of colonial church, so much less endowed with men and bureaucratic structures as the rest of America Castilian, there was also the real fear of Portuguese settlers that the extension of religion in Brazil become an excuse for the implementation of missionaries suspected of leniency towards African slaves, as they showed it against Indigenous peoples.

Unfortunately, unfounded fear: indeed the religious orders who worked in Brazil, all used slavish manpower of deported Africans.

church in Brazil

A popular catholicism without Church armature

Religion5 Popular Religion in Colonial Brazil  – Until the proclamation of the Republic, delay, lack of men and ecclesiastical structures are obligatorily and will take quite staggering dimensions:

In 1822, at the proclamation of independence, Brazil had only one archdiocese since 1676, that of Salvadro six dioceses Olinda, Maranhão, Belém, Mariana, Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo and two prelatures (Goias and Guiaba).

It is hardly better at the end of the nineteenth century, as noted by Richard Marin:

With only one archdiocese and eleven dioceses at the time of the Republic proclamation, served by a few hundreds of secular priests (mostly in the coastal parishes), Brazil is still seen as mission territory when the rest of Latin America has long since reached the stage of the Church.


Religion6 Beyond the low territorial coverage of the Brazilian church, Bennassar also noted the incredible absence of Episcopal seats over the same period:

Maybe we should invoke the lack of enthusiasm aroused among the Portuguese clergy, the perspective of an Episcopal post in Brazil! Among the named bishops, four declined themselves, eighteen never carry out with the trip, twenty-three quickly gave up on their mission. convent-brazil

So that the seats remained vacant for very long periods: from 1649 to 1682, the episcopal seat of Bahia was empty except for a brief interlude from 1669 to 1672 and became archbishop, this seat was deprived of the holder for forty-four years between 1682 and 1822, the bishopric of Rio remained vacant for fifteen years and a half; that of Para for twenty-eight years, the one of Maranhão holds a dishonorable record with eighty-eight years of vacancy between 1677, creation date, and 1822! The diocese seats of São Paulo and Mariana, created in 1745, remained vacant for twenty-two and twenty-seven and a half years respectively!

Religion7 In the first age of religion in Brazil,

Popular Religion in Colonial Brazil  – Religion7 In the first age of religion in Brazil, the quality of priestly supervision besides few parish visits (performed systematically only from 1720, and again!) also asking many questions to the Vatican.

A Vatican document [eighteenth century] says bluntly

The clergy unites the crassest ignorance in a deplorable morals laxity, a fault, influencing people’s demoralization. Priests living openly with their concubines and their children.

At the end of the long reign of Pedro II, at the time of the proclamation of the Republic and the separation of church and state, Brazilian Church is in a state of disturbing decay, almost bloodless religious orders. Popular Religion in Colonial Brazil  read more


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