Freguesia (Portuguese pronunciation: [ˌfɾɛɣɨˈzi.ɐ]), usually translated as "parish" or "civil parish", is the third-level administrative subdivision of Portugal, as defined by the 1976 Constitution. It is also a local administrative unit in the former Portuguese overseas territories of Cape Verde and Macau. In the past, was also an administrative division of the other Portuguese overseas territories. The parroquia in the Spanish autonomous communities of Galicia and Asturias is similar to a freguesia.
A freguesia is a subdivision of a município (municipality). Most often, a parish takes the name of its seat, which is usually the most important (or the single) human agglomeration within its area, which can be a neighbourhood or city district, a group of hamlets, a village, a town or an entire city. In cases where the seat is itself divided into more than one parish, each one takes the name of a landmark within its area or of the patron saint from the usually coterminous Catholic parish (paróquia in Portuguese). Be it a city district or village, the civil parish is often based on an ecclesiastical parish.
Since the creation of a democratic local administration, in 1976, the Portuguese parishes have been ruled by a system composed by an executive body (the junta de freguesia, "parish board") and a deliberative body (the assembleia de freguesia, "parish assembly"). The members of the assembleia de freguesia are publicly elected every four years. The presidents of the parish boards are also members of the municipal assembly.
The parish, in contrast with the municipalities, had their base in the ecclesiastical divisions that "had its origin in the fact that neighbours professed the same religion and professed their faith and divinity in the same temple". Freguesia, the traditional Portuguese word for parish, had its beginning in the filius ecclesiae (child of the church) and filius gregis (child of the shepherds's flock), the collectivity of the religious faithful, with similar aspirations and interests. Between 1216 and 1223, Afonso II of Portugal began a process of legitimizing the Portuguese territory by conferring charters to nobles, clergy and municipal chambers (which would not be completed until after 1249, under Afonso III of Portugal), making the parish the smallest division. But, the power of the clergy built these areas, accumulating immense wealth and power. The liberal government of Mouzinho da Silveira abolished the parishes in 1832, but the government of Manuel da Silva Passos restored them in 1836. The freguesia began to refer to the civil/administrative entity, while the paróquia (Latin: parochia) became affiliated with the religious entity.
Before the 2013 local government reforms, the 308 municipalities were subdivided into 4,259 civil parishes. In 2011, after more than two weeks of bailout negotiations in light of the sovereign debt crisis with the International Monetary Fund, the European Central Bank and the European Commission, the Portuguese government was obliged to reduce the number of municipal and parish local governments after July 2012. The government of Pedro Passos Coelho introduced a plan to reform the administrative divisions, in order to create efficiencies and save money. The plan envisioned the reform of the management, territorial geography and political form of how Portugal functioned at the local level, including specifically at the freguesia and concelho levels. It was determined that these changes would then be formalized before the 2013 local government elections, as part of a process to reduce expenditures, a condition of the $110 Billion accord. In addition to the reduction of the number of representatives in the local boards, the plan also established criteria for the reduction, amalgamation or extinction of various civil parishes.
The reform was implemented according to Law 11-A/2013 of 28 January 2013, which defined the reorganization of the civil parishes, This way, the number of parishes was reduced from 4,259 to 3,091.
Municipalities in Portugal are usually divided into multiple freguesias, but seven municipalities are not: Alpiarça, Barrancos, Castanheira de Pera, Porto Santo, São Brás de Alportel and São João da Madeira all consist of a single civil parish, and Corvo is a special case of a municipality without civil parishes. Barcelos is the municipality with the most civil parishes (61, since 2013).