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(Also written CHILI).

A comparatively narrow strip of coast-land in South America between the Pacific Ocean on the west and the Andes Mountains on the east, including the watershed. It extends from 17 deg. 30' S. lat. to the extremity of South America (Cape Horn), about 57 deg. S. lat., thus including Tierra del Fuego and the islands of Navarino, Hoste, and smaller isles to the south, besides, in the west, the islands of Chiloé, Wellington, with their surroundings, and farther out in the Pacific, Juan Fernández. The surface of the country, including the main islands, is calculated at about 290,000 sq. miles. Chile is approximately 2500 miles long, while the width varies between 185 and 100 miles. Ascent from the Pacific shore to the eastern crests is therefore very abrupt, the highest mountain peaks rising to over 22,000 feet in the Aconcgua. The whole chain and its ramifications are dotted with more than forty volcanoes, some of which are active. Northern Chile, including the recently occupied Peruvian province of Tacna and the Bolivian province of Tarapacá, etc. are arid along the coast, and the soil is alkaline; south of these provinces fertile valleys abound; the timbered southern extremity is cold, and glaciers reach the seashore. The eastern shores of the Strait of Magellan are barren. The agricultural sections of the republic lie almost exclusively in the temperate zone and are very productive in cereals, fruit, and grapes: in short, all alimentary products characteristic of temperate regions. Chile has gold, silver, copper, iron, nitrates, borates and coal; all of these minerals are worked by the people of the country as well as by foreign enterprise. The country is therefore progressing rapidly, owing chiefly to the character of its inhabitants, who distinguish themselves by energy and intense patriotism. The gold production of Chile from 1544 to August 1894, has been stated at about 9,917,000 ounces. Chile has, in the southern and central sections, a number of rivers, some of which are partly navigable, at least for smaller craft. The most important of these, from south to north are the Cautin or Imperial, the Biobio, and further north, the Maule, Rapel, and Maipó. The streams are short and descend from mountain lakes, of which there are a great number. The southern coast is remarkably indented and the Strait of Magellan, with countless islands and islets, terminates the mainland about 53 deg. S. lat. The north of Chile (Tacna, Tarapacá, Antofagasta and Northern Atacama) is very dry, and rains are scarce. The climate of the coast, further south, is usually from seven to eight degrees cooler than that of corresponding latitudes on the Atlantic. Variations are abrupt, storms frequent, not seldom violent, and rain falls in great quantities. Towards the extremity of the continent and in Tierra del Fuego the rains are still heavier, the climate colder, approaching arctic conditions, with heavy snowfalls. Tempests increase in violence towards the south, along the coast.


According to the census of 1903, the population of Chile numbered 3,205,992 souls, most of whom are Catholics. Of these, however, 15 per cent were only estimated. In 1895 it included 72,812 foreign residents; Italians, Germans, and English being the most numerous. Since 1835 the population had increased threefold. It is the most homogeneous of any country in South America, the Northern Indians having completely disappeared as such. In the south, the Araucanians continue to enjoy a sort of autonomy under military surveillance; their number is variously stated, but is probably more than 20,000, while some put it as high as 60,000. The number of Patagonian aborigines is inconsiderable, and Tierra del Fuego has about 4000 inhabitants.


The form of government is republican. The legislative power is vested in Congress, consisting of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies. The latter are elected directly in the provinces for a term of three years, one deputy for every 30,000 inhabitants or fraction thereof, not less than 15,000. Senators are also elected directly by the people, one senator for three deputies, or one senator for two deputies, two if the number of inhabitants does not permit three for the province. The senators' term of office is six years, at the end of which they may be re-elected. The president, who is the chief executive, is chosen by indirect suffrage, that is, by electors chosen by the people. For judicial purposes the territory is divided into six sections, at the head of each of which is a Court of Appeals. The Supreme court is held art the capital, Santiago, and has the superintendence and direction of all inferior courts. In addition to the provincial appellate tribunals, there are, in some of the districts, special judges of criminal and commercial affairs. Chile consists of twenty-three provinces and the Territory of Magallanes. Each province is subdivided into departments, each department into subdelegations, which in turn are composed of districts. At the head of each province stands an intendant, who is directly dependent on the president; the departments have their governors, under whom are the subdelegates, who control the inspectors of each district. The municipal governments of the provincial capitals are presided over by the intendants, those of subdelegations by the subdelegate. All citizens are equal before the law and eligible to public offices, except in special cases. Residence at all points, association, and education are free, as also the press. The courts decide all cases of abuse of the liberty of the press. The great majority of the population being of Spanish descent, Spanish is the national language, but foreigners enjoy all reasonable liberties. In 1850 the establishment of a specifically German colony was begun at Valdivia, and the development of that province is largely due to German settlers. German immigrants are numerous throughout Chile, and their business standing is quite high. The English also have a good share in larger mining operations and they control to some extent the Chilian lines of steamers on the Pacific. There are private institutes of education founded and supported exclusively by foreigners. The Chilian army and navy are the best in south America. The army has, since the war with Bolivia and Peru, been specially trained by officers obtained from Germany. The number of the regular troops is fixed annually by Congress.

The metric system obtains in the republic. There are three gold coins: the condor (20 Chilian pesos, a peso is equivalent to 36.5 cents); the doblón (10 pesos), and the escudo (5 pesos); but paper money and silver are the usual currency. The smallest coins (one and two cents or centavos) contain 95 per cent of copper and 5 per cent of nickel. Imports rose, from 1885 to 1905 inclusive, from 44,000,000 to over 188,000,000 Chilian pesos; exports during the same period, from 51,000,000 to 265,000,000 pesos. The nitrate exports in 1903 alone amounted to 140,000,000. The exports are chiefly to England and Germany. The chief commercial port is Valparaiso, established 1543; it now has a population of 150,000. In 1903, thee were 11,080 miles of telegraph lines in operation and in 1906, 2875 miles of railroads. On 1 January, 1904, the foreign national debt of Chile amount to 16,449,960 pounds sterling, and the home debt to 103,815,821 Chileian pesos. Sixty millions of the latter were represented by paper money in circulation.


The cost of supporting public education is paid by the government which, in 1903, spent 4, 146,574 pesos for the purpose. Instruction is free and is divided into primary, secondary, and professional or superior. Primary instruction is supervised by a body of instructors headed by an inspector-general. In 1903, there were 1,961 primary schools with 166,928 pupils and 3608 teachers. Besides, thee were 506 private institutions of primary education, and the private secondary schools were frequented by 11,184 students. Normal schools for men and for women also exist. The national institute and the lyceums (11 male and 4 female), and likewise the university at Santiago, the highest institution of learning, are under the immediate control of the council of Public Instruction. Licences to practise law, medicine, and engineering are issued by the university. Furthermore, there are the agricultural institute and schools of agriculture and mining, a school of arts and crafts, academy of painting, pedagogic institute, conservatory of music, and military and naval schools. The council of Technical Instruction at Santiago superintends the agricultural institute, school of arts and crafts, and the professional school for girls. Public libraries and scientific societies of a rather high order flourish, and museums exist as well as botanical garden, astronomical and meteorological observatories, and a hydrographic bureau.


While the State religion is Catholic, still the Church has not enjoyed entire peace. In 1768 the Jesuits, who had begun missionary work among the Araucanians at the beginning of the seventeenth or end of the sixteenth century, were expelled. They were re-admitted, however, in 1843. The State confiscated the church property in 1824, and fixed a salary for the clergy. Tithes and most of the religious houses were abolished. In 1883 ecclesiastical tribunals were placed under lay supervision, and in 1884 civil marriage was introduced, and is the only form acknowledged by law. A conflict arose, in 1883, between Chile and Rome concerning the right of nomination to vacant sees; this difficulty was satisfactorily adjusted in 1888. Diplomatic relations are maintained with the Holy See, an internuncio residing permanently at Santiago.

Chile constitutes one ecclesiastical province, comprising the Archdiocese of Santiago, the suffragan sees of Concepción, San Carlos de Ancud (Chilóe), and Serena; and the Vicariates Apostolic of Tarapacá and Antofagasta, both dependent on the congregation of Extraordinary Ecclesiastical Affairs. In Southern Chile there are Indian missions conducted by the Franciscan Recollects, the Capuchins, and the Salesians. There are numerous schools and colleges in the State conducted by the religious, but even in the public schools religious instruction is compulsory. (For further religious statistics, see articles SANTIAGO DE CHILE; CONCEPCION; ANCUD; SERENE; ANTOFAGASTA; TARAPACA.)


Previous to 1535 very little is known of the conditions of the Indians of Chile. Several, and possibly numerous tribes like the Quillotanos and Promaucas or Purumaucas, held the northern sections of the present republic. They, at least the former, may have been of Peruvian stock, but they have completely disappeared and hardly anything is known about their idioms. The word Chile is variously explained, but there is no certain etymology. Southern Chile (Paragonia and Tierra del Fuego omitted) appears to have been held by Indians of Araucanian stock, the warlike people which now bears that name and is organized into a loose confederacy of tribes, forming the most considerable cluster. The first Spanish expedition to Chile was commanded by Diego de Almagro the elder about 1535 and 1536. It penetrated into northern Chile from Bolivia, across the Atacama region, and reached as far as the Rio Claro among the Purumaucas. After an indecisive engagement with that tribe, Almagro retraced his steps to Cuzco in Peru, there to meet his death. It was only in 1540 that a permanent conquest was begun, led by Pedro de Valdivia. Valdivia was more successful that his predecessor. He occupied the country as far as about 38 deg. S. lat., and came in contact with the Araucanians, who destroyed him with his entire force on 1 January, 1554. The Indians north of the Araucanians had been subjected in the years previous, although not without much resistance and repeated uprisings against the Spanish invaders. Valdivia had founded at least seven Spanish settlements, such as Serena, Conceptión, Angol, Imperial, etc. An Indian war of unequalled duration and fierceness followed. It lasted with short interruptions for more than two centuries and was brought to a close only after 1773 by a treaty of peace in which the Araucanians negotiated with the Spanish officers as an independent and foreign power. According to the treaty the Araucanians maintained the integrity of their territory, and were to be represented at Santiago by one of their chiefs in the quality of an envoy. During the past century, these conditions were gradually changed, and the Araucanian territory is now merely the Indian reservation of Chile.

The protracted resistance of the Araucanians has no parallel in the history of America. The Iroquois held their own for not quite two centuries, but their position, between rival European colonies (first France and England, then England and the United States) was much more favourable. They always had a civilized power to fall back upon, whereas the Araucanians were isolated. The feeble attempts made in the seventeenth century by Dutch and English corsairs to establish relations with them had no permanent results. As already mentioned they displayed a remarkable aptitude for improvement in the art of war, whereas in the arts of peace they advanced but little. During that protracted warfare the Spanish colonies in southern Chile were often in a most critical position, for the Spanish arms sometimes suffered disastrous reverses. The old settlement of Imperial had to be definitively abandoned in 1600. In the same year Angol (founded 1553) suffered the same fate. Tucapel was still more short-lived. The Araucanians repeatedly destroyed Concepción. In several engagements in the open field the Indians also obtained considerable successes, their horsemen encountering Spanish cavalry successfully. In 1563 the governor Pedro de Villagran, was defeated and killed by the Araucanians. Some of the Spanish leaders, however, like García Hurtado de Mendoza, obtained signal victories on various occasions. This state of things was not favourable to a steady development of the Spanish colony in Chile. Dependent on the Vice-Royalty of Lima, and frequently molested by English and Dutch filibusters, communication with the outer world was difficult and occasionally interrupted. Left mostly to their own resources, the Chilian Spaniards developed into a hardy and energetic race, proud of having maintained themselves in spite of adversity.

Spain was unable to take care of its colonies in the first decade of the nineteenth century. A provisional government (junta gubernativa) was installed in 1810. Attacked by the Spanish authorities in Peru, Chile had to resort to arms, but its army, led by the brave General Bernardo O'Higgins was defeated at Rancagua in 1814, and Spanish authority was restored for a while. At the battle of Chacabuco, however, (12 February, 1817), and the subsequent action of Maipo (5 April), the Chilians definitively achieved their independence, which was formally declared, 12 February, 1818, and recognized by Spain in 1846. The island of Chiloé alone held out for Spain until 1826. Since then Chile has had its internal troubles, though not as many as other South American republics. The worst was in 1891. Then the people rose against the attempt of Balmaceda to establish a dictatorial power. The bloody engagement at La Placilla, in August of that year, ensured the triumph of the constitutional party. Since then, there have been no internal troubles. Chile has had several foreign wars. In 1839 the Chilian army was called to the aid of the Bolivian and Peruvian opponents of the "Protector" Santa Cruz, who attempted to enforce a union between Peru and Bolivia. The Chileans and their allies from Peru achieved a complete victory at Yungay, January, 1839, and the Chilian flag was displayed in Northern Peru. In 1866 a difficulty arose with Spain that brought about the bombardment of Valparaiso by a Spanish squadron. Finally war broke out between Chile and Bolivia, afterwards also with Peru, in the course of which the Chilian forces destroyed the Peruvian navy, penetrated victoriously as near Central Bolivia as Puno, occupied the whole of the Peruvian coast after severe campaigning, and even reached Cajamarca in Northern Peru. As a result of this long and serious contest (in which Lima was taken after several bloody engagements) Chile obtained possession of the maritime provinces of Bolivia and the Peruvian department of Tacna. A truce, which has not yet been converted into a formal treaty of peace, was made in 1884, putting an end to these hostilities.


For the works on the anthropology of Chile, see article ARAUCANIANS. The natural history (and also the anthropology) of Chile has been the subject of exhaustive treatment by CLAUDIO GAY, Historia Fisica y Política de Chile (Paris and Santiago 1844 - 1854). In the Verhandlungen des deutschen wissenschaftlichen Vereins (Santiago), much valuable material is found, especially by PHILLIPPI and R. LENZ. The very numerous official publications of the Chilian Government afford a great wealth of statistics, condensed in the publications of the BUREAU OF AMERICAN REPUBLICS, at Washington; in the work of ADOLFO ORTUZAR, Le Chili de nos jours, in Annuaire national (Paris, 1906), of ESPINOXA, Geografía descriptiva de la República de Chile (Santiago, 1897), of ENRIQUE DE SILVA, Ensayo de una bibliografía histórica y geográfica de Chile (Santiago, 1902), and of several others. For the history of Chile the two very important collections, Historiadores primitivos de Chile, begun by BARROS ARANA, and the Documentos inéditos para la historia de Chile, must be consulted, since they contain most, if not all, of the older literature on the country and its inhabitants. To these must be added BARROS ARANA, Historia general de Chile (Santiago, 1884 - 1885); also, Documentos inéditos del Archivo de Indias; La Provincia Eclesiástica Chilena (Freiburg, 1895).

About this page

APA citation. Bandelier, A.F. (1908). Chile. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.

MLA citation. Bandelier, Adolph Francis. "Chile." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Theodore Rego.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. November 1, 1908. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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