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Pray for Portugal

Basic info

Portugal remained untouched by the Reformation. Roman Catholicism was the official State religion until the revolution of 1974. It remains the dominant religion today, with 97% of the population claiming to be Catholics. One of the big attractions in the country is the large basilica and shrine to ‘Our Lady of Fatima’ about fiftty miles north of Lisbon. At certain times of the year people from all over the country, and other parts of the world, go to Fatima for special adoration of the Virgin Mary who, it is claimed, appeared to three young children there in 1917, under the name of ‘Notre Dame du Rosaire’. Many people make much of the journey on their knees, necessitating the setting up of first-aid stations along the way. At the shrine itself many pilgrims go around the shrine, which stands on the spot where the Virgin Mary is supposed to have appeared, on their knees, some carrying small children and some with sick relatives. It is claimed that healings can be obtained at the shrine
  • Area: 92212 sq km
  • Population: 10,291,000
  • Infant mortality: 4.3 per 1000 live births
  • Life expectancy: 81.5
  • Urbanisation: 65%
  • Literacy: 95.7%


From 1928 to 1968 the country was under the dictatorship of Antonio de Oliveira Salazar. He was succeeded by Marcello Caetano. In 1974 there was an attempted Communist take-over leading to a military coup led by General Antonio Ribeiro de Spinola which ousted Caetano. He was eventually replaced by Costa Gomes. In 1978 a new constitution was adopted providing for the return to civilian rule. The succeeding years continued to see much political upheaval, but there has been greater stability in the country since the general election victory of the Socialist Party in 1995 when its leader Antonio Guterres became prime minister. In 1996 the Socialist Party candidate, Jorge Sampaio, was elected president.


The territory of Portugal includes an area in the Iberian Peninsula (referred to as the continent by most Portuguese) and two archipelagos in the Atlantic Ocean: the archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores. Mainland Portugal is split by its main river, the Tagus, that flows from Spain and disgorges in Tagus Estuary, in Lisbon. The northern landscape is mountainous towards the interior with several plateaus indented by river valleys, whereas the south, including the Algarve and the Alentejo regions, is characterized by rolling plains. Portugal's highest peak is the similarly named Mount Pico on the island of Pico in the Azores. This ancient volcano, which measures 2,351 m (7,713 ft) is an iconic symbol of the Azores, while the Serra da Estrela on the mainland (the summit being 1,991 m (6,532 ft) above sea level) is an important seasonal attraction for skiers and winter sports enthusiasts. The archipelagos of Madeira and the Azores are scattered within the Atlantic Ocean: the Azores straddling the Mid-Atlantic Ridge on a tectonic triple junction, and Madeira along a range formed by in-plate hotspot geology. Geologically, these islands were formed by volcanic and seismic events. The last terrestrial volcanic eruption occurred in 1957–58 (Capelinhos) and minor earthquakes occur sporadically, usually of low intensity.


Since joining the European Union in 1988 there has been much development and in some areas a noted increase in living standards, particularly in the cities. Outside of the major cities there is much poverty. The mountainous terrain and traditional (but outdated) farming methods provide a meagre living for those in the country areas. The main agricultural products are wine, olive oil and cork. The north in particular remains very poor and many people remain illiterate. It has been estimated that in the country as a whole, 11% of men and 18% of women are illiterate. The average national income has been calculated at around £3500 per head (1991 figure).

Ethnic groups

Ethnic Groups(%)







Roman Catholicism









  • 96%


  • 10%


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