In the beginning of the 19th century Agustín Fernández was chaplain of the naval base at San Blas. Records in the colonial section of the Mexican national archive, summarized in all caps, refer to his role several ways:

  • "CAPELLAN DE LOS BUQUES" (chaplain of the ships)
  • "AUXILIAR DEL PAQUEBOT 'PRINCIPE ASTURIAS'" (auxiliary of the packetboat "Principe Asturias")
  • "CAPELLAN DEL APOSTADERO DE SAN BLAS" (chaplain of the San Blas station)

Other than provide confession to mariners, what did a naval chaplain like Fernández do? Given that reference to a specific ship, would the chaplain have served on voyages as well as in port?

1 Answer 1


A Naval chaplain would serve his 'flock' in the same manner as the chaplain of a town would serve the townspeople. That is he'd oversee the religious aspects of their lives; confession, leading religious services, providing spiritual guidance and providing comfort to the sick and dying. With the exception of taking confession, Protestant chaplains had the same duties on their ships.

If they were assigned to a ship they would provide these services at sea during the voyages. A large warship could have a crew of up to a thousand men, so just taking confession (and keeping track of those who did/didn't) would be quite time consuming. Likewise, a chaplain assigned to a port would provide these same services to those people staffing the port.

  • I only haven't accepted this answer because I really want to know about the split of responsibilities between land and sea. Could you clarify the circumstances in which the port chaplain would be assigned to a ship? May 3, 2018 at 5:21
  • Unfortunately there's comparatively little info about the Spanish Navy in English language (and I can't read Spanish) so I don't have any specific information about how the Chaplains were assigned to their postings. I'd imagine (given the risks and discomfort of sea travel at the time) that it would be an assignment for relatively low ranking priests within the Church, unless it was a voyage with prestigious VIPs on board.
    – Steve Bird
    May 3, 2018 at 16:10
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    @SteveBird a capellán/chaplain is a low tier religious rank,comes before priest but after monk, and refers, as steve said, to a priest without a church but with a flock. The spanish navy still had this rank on 1989 (given it's oldie nature). A Sip's chaplain after the 1780 reform would equal to a midshipman, and after the 1900 to a liutenant. you can find more info on es.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuerpo_Eclesi%C3%A1stico_de_la_Armada. They indeed traveled with the ships, could choose destination, and it was a volunteer (on enlist) position, not a levied one, until the said 1780 reform.
    – CptEric
    May 4, 2018 at 6:22
  • they also had medical and writing responsibilities pre 1780 and used to be the ones that wrote to the sailor's families along the other midshipmen,one must remember that spain's illiteracy rate was over 60% until the 1960's and that only religious or noble people used to get proper education ( with the exception of the 1931-1939 period, where education was mandatory at all ages, and the current era (1960 onwards)).
    – CptEric
    May 4, 2018 at 6:24
  • @CptEric that's a very helpful link, thanks! Jan 10, 2020 at 0:04

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