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Religion in Argentina

The Spanish brought Catholicism with them when they established cities in the region, and forced all native people to convert at swordpoint. Like most of Latin America, Argentina is still primarily Roman Catholic, and Catholics account for well over 90% of the population. About 2% of the population is Protestant. Argentina has traditionally had a large Jewish population (almost entirely based in Buenos Aires), which also accounts for about 2% of the population. There is also a significant Muslim population in Argentina. Religions with active missionary movements, such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Mormons have begun making inroads into Argentina.

Many Argentines believe in folkloric local “cults.” One such cult is that of “El Gauchito Gil.” Born Antonio Mamerto Gil Núñez sometime around 1845, El Gauchito Gil was an actual gaucho who lived in Corrientes Province. There are many myths and legends surrounding el Gauchito Gil, but most of them agree that he had an affair with a wealthy widow and was forced to leave town. He fought in the war against Paraguay, but refused to fight in Argentina’s own civil wars. Forced to enlist, he deserted but was captured. Before being executed, he told his killer that his son was ill and that he could save him. The man didn’t believe him and executed Gil, but when he went home his son was indeed ill. The man prayed to Gil and the boy was cured. Since then, Argentines have prayed to El Guachito Gil for miracles, especially medical ones. Although the Catholic Church has not yet declared Gauchito Gil a saint (don’t hold your breath), many Argentines do believe in him, and small roadside shrines to his memory are common.

Another popular cult is that of “La Difunta Correa,” or “The Deceased Correa.” The rather gruesome story goes like this: Deolinda Correa was a young mother circa 1840 whose husband was drafted to fight in the civil wars. He took her and their infant child along rather than leave them behind. He became ill and was left behind, and she set out to find some sort of aid, but she herself perished before she could find anyone to held. Some gauchos found her body a few days later (brace yourself for the creepy part). Her infant child was still suckling at her breast, which had not begun to decompose like the rest of her body. The gauchos took the boy and buried Deolinda. When the story got out, people began leaving offerings at her grave. What was once a barely-marked grave in the woods has now turned into a small town and many Argentines believe she is a saint and ask her for favors.

Cults notwithstanding, most Argentines see themselves as Catholic. Until 1994, non-Catholics were prohibited by law from being president of Argentina. Still, many Argentines do not practice their religion regularly. The Catholic Church came under considerable fire in the 1970’s and 1980’s for its vocal defense of the military regime that was responsible for the torture and murder of thousands of innocent civilians. Only a minority of Argentines regularly attend church.


Here are some related tips to help plan your trip to Argentina: Centro Cultural Borges and Catamarqueño Handicrafts.

By Christopher Minster
I am a writer and editor at V!VA Travel guides here in Quito, where I specialize in adding quality content to the site and also in spooky things like...
21 Apr 2008

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