By Sarah Lander
Ecuador, although predominantly Roman Catholic, constitutionally embraces an open attitude towards diverse religious and spiritual practices. Ecuador is a secular state, meaning it separates religious and political life in its policies and practices. Although it is a secular state, approximately 85-95% of Ecuadorians identify as Roman Catholic. Historical events have shifted religious and spiritual practices amongst Ecuador’s diverse population over time, crafting the religiously homogenous but religiously tolerant nation we see today.
Most of the indigenous populations in Ecuador have adopted Catholicism and shifted away from their prior spiritual and religious practices since colonization from the Spanish. Although Ecuador is predominantly Roman Catholic, there is a small Jewish population, as well as other smaller followings of Christian faiths and other miscellaneous religions. The constitution in Ecuador is one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, especially regarding religious freedoms. This constitution instills religious freedoms and tolerance upon the nation and discourages religious based discrimination in any form.
Roman Catholicism was brought to Ecuador with Spanish colonialism in 1534. This was when the first Catholic church was built, and now churches are one of the biggest attractions for tourists and locals with their elaborate architecture and history. Although it is commonly assumed that the first church was built in Quito, the capital, this is not the case. Before Quito was deemed the capital city, the capital was near the Chimborazo volcano, high in the mountains. The climate was deemed too difficult for a capital city shortly after the first Catholic church was already underway. It was with this realization that the Spanish shifted the capital to Quito where it remains today. The oldest known church is called the ‘The Balbanera Church’ or ‘Iglesía de Balbanera’, named after the virgin of Balbanera. This church was built with volcanic materials and, although done with colonial influence, shows off many local practices and habits such as regional food and cultural traditions in its architecture.
Churches in Ecuador provide great significance and insight into the country’s colonial encounters and present-day religious practices. These structures are an everyday reminder of how embedded Catholicism and religion is in Ecuador’s knitwork. Catholic churches in the country are a common tourist attraction, and they are often large and extravagant. The implementation of attractive churches came with the overall colonial shift towards Roman Catholicism and has now become a large part of Ecuador as a nation’s identity at large.
Secularism is represented in the education system as well as other facets of everyday life. For example, public schools must put Ecuador’s secularist constitution in practice and are not to mention religion in schools at all to ensure a separation of church and state. With that though, privately funded schools may still promote religious ideology through their curricula. Ecuador is a unique example of modern-day progression and secularism, encountering a long history of embedded religious homogeneity.
Drake, Angela. ‘The Story Behind the Oldest Church in Ecuador’. 2017. Web. https://theculturetrip.com/south-america/ecuador/articles/the-story-behind-the-oldest-church-in-ecuador/
“Ecuador 2018 Religious Freedom Report” 2018. Web. https://www.state.gov/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/ECUADOR-2018-INTERNATIONAL-RELIGIOUS-FREEDOM-REPORT.pdf
“History and Culture of Ecuador”. Web. https://www.adventure-life.com/ecuador/articles/history-and-culture-of-ecuador