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Republic of Costa Rica

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A narrow isthmus between Panama in the east and the Republic of Nicaragua in the north, the Caribbean Sea on the north-east and the Pacific Ocean on the south-west. Between latitudes north 9° and 11° and longitude west of Greenwich 83° and 86°; its area is calculated as 18,400 square miles; the population in 1905 is given as 334,307 besides 3500 Indians. The principal city is San José, the capital, with 24,500 inhabitants; next comes Cartago with 7800, then Heredia with 7151. There are two ports on the Atlantic and two on the Pacific coast. Mountain chains traverse the territory in many directions, but the principle one runs through the whole length from northwest to south-east. Its tallest peak is called "Pico Blanco" and rises to 11,800 feet above sea level. Costa Rica has six, partly active volcanoes, among which the tallest (Irazu) rises to a height of 11,600 feet and has been dormant for many years. The surface is in general very much broken, the mountains are eruptive or volcanic, and sedimentary deposits abut against them at a lower level. Many streams, some of which are navigable for a short distance, water the territory. The Pacific coast has two handsome gulfs; Nicoya in the north, and the Golfo Dulce near the frontier of Panama.

The climate is tropical. There are but two seasons: winter or the dry, and summer or the wet, season. Altitude and climate divide the country into three zones, the hot that rises from the shores on both sides to about 3000 feet; the temperate (between 3000 and 7500), and the cold higher up. Snowfalls, even on the highest summits are very rare; the mean temperature of the hot season is stated as varying between 72° and 82° Fahr.; of the temperate zone, from 57° to 78 degrees. Mahogany, cedar, rosewood, and other precious woods for building and decorative purposes are scattered throughout its forests, also dye-woods. Medicinal plants are numerous, and india rubber of the species called Castilloa elastica. Among resinous plants copal and Myroxylum, producing Peru and tolu balsams, abound. The chief agricultural products are coffee, banana, tobacco, cocoa. Cotton and indigo are also raised. Most of the cultivated plants were imported from Europe by the Spaniards. Nearly if not all larger animals of the torrid zones of America are found. To entomologists Costa Rica is a rich field. There are mine fields of gold, silver, copper and lead. Gold was discovered as recently as Columbus' last voyage in 1502, and the number of gold ornaments found in the hands of the Indians, as well as the auriferous sands of the rivers gave the newly discovered country the name Costa Rica, "the rich coast". In 1815 the rich gold district of Monte del Aquacate was first brought to notice by Bishop Garcia of Nicaragua and Leon. No general mining statistics exist. Mining laws are rather confused, being a mixture of former Spanish ordinances with modern amendments. But mining machinery is imported free of duty and neither the Government nor municipalities levy any taxes on mining property.

Costa Rica became independent of Spain in 1821 and was a member of the Central American confederacy from 1824 to 1848 when that confederacy was dissolved. In 1870-71 a constitution was adopted which has been modified repeatedly since. The executive head of the republic is a president, but there have been several dictators. The president is elected for four years, indirectly through electors chosen by the people, and cannot serve a second term. He is assisted by four secretaries. There is no vice-president. In case of the inability of the president to discharge his duties, he is replaced by one of the three persons designated by Congress, at the first session in each presidential term. Congress consists of only one house. Its members are also indirectly chosen by the people for four years, one member for every 8000 inhabitants, and one-half elected every two years. Members of the supreme court of justice are appointed by Congress. The territory is divided politically into five provinces, at the head of each of which is the governor appointed by the president. Costa Rica has a civil code, a code of civil procedure, and since 1888, a judiciary law. Trial by jury takes place only in criminal cases.

By the Constitution, art. 51., "The Catholic Apostolic Roman is the religion of the state which contributes to its maintenance without impeding the exercise in the republic of any other religion not opposed to universal morality and good behavior" (buenas costumbres). By the Concordat (7 Oct., 1852) the jurisdiction previously exercised from the time of the Spanish occupation by the ecclesiastical authorities in litigations involving the Church possessions or in the temporal rights of the Church, passed over to the civil tribunals, but it was stipulated at the same time that, in the courts of the second and the third instance, legal trial of criminal cases involving priests required the assistance as judicial assessors of ecclesiastics nominated by the bishop. In 1908, no Apostolic delegate having been appointed for Costa Rica since the year 1882, Pius X communicated to the republic his wish to reestablish the delegation there. The republic's representative at the Vatican answered that the government welcomed the idea, and begged His Holiness to give the new delegate the character of envoy to the republic, to which the pope assented. The envoy-extraordinary and Apostolic delegate named was Mgr. Giovanni Cagliera, titular archbishop of Sebaste.

Up to 1850 the bishop of Leon (Nicaragua) was also administrator of Costa Rica. The first Bishop of Costa Rica, Anselmo Liorente y Lafuente, was consecrated in Guatemala, 7 September, 1851, and installed 5 January, 1852. Bishop B. A. Thiel (b. at Elberfeld, 1850; d. at San José, 1901), a Lazarist, who was professor of theology in Ecuador, and banished for defending the Jesuits, was appointed Bishop of San José in 1880. He was an explorer, a student of Indian languages, and the founder of an ethnographic and biological museum in San José. He translated a number of religious works from German into Spanish and wrote "Idiomas de los Indios"; "Vaijes" (1897) and "Datos chronol. para la Hist. de Costa Rica." There are forty-two parishes in the republic. The St. Vincent de Paul conferences are very active. in 1899 they had 1396 members. In San José there are six. Women's St. Vincent de Paul auxiliaries are organized in nearly all the cities. In 1899 they distributed $26,208. Since the Plenary Council of Latin America (1899) sponsalia (see BETROTHAL) to be valid must be publicly recorded. In 1890 the public treasury contributed 19,404 pesos to the support of the Church. Primary education is free and compulsory. Its immediate direction belongs to the municipality; the national executive, however, reserves the right of general supervision. Article 53 of the Constitution permits every Costa Rican to give or receive what instruction he pleases in any educational establishment not supported by public funds. The budget of public instruction rose from 137,677.77 in 1890 to 235,203 pesos in 1902, when there were six higher schools, one normal schools, and 306 primary schools, the latter, with 17,746 pupils.

After Costa Rica was discovered by Columbus in 1502, Diego de Niceusa attempted to colonize it in 1509, but it was fourteen years later when Francisco Hernandez made a settlement in the country, and its conquest was only gradually perfected after 1526. Several tribes of the isthmus spoke a language allied to that of the Chibcha of Columbia. Among these, it seems that the Talamancas and Guaymis were the most prominent. The former held the eastern coast, extending to the boundary with Nicaragua, the latter lived mostly in what is now the Republic of Panama. A tribe, to which the Spanish name Valientes has been given, also belonged to Costa Rica. In culture, especially in the working of gold and silver, the Guaymis resembled the Chibcha. All these aborigines were grouped in small independent tribes, and their resistance to the European invaders was protracted rather by natural obstacles than through actual power. During Spanish colonial times, Costa Rica had sixty-two successive rulers — governors (adelantados), etc., and was regarded as a province of Guatemala.


THEIL, La Iglesia Cattolica en Costa Rica in Revista de c. L. en el Siglo XIX (San José, 1902); For the earliest period of discovery and Spanish colonization of Costa Rica, the letters of Columbus are indispensable. Additional information is given in NAVARETTE, Coleccion de Viajes y Descumbrimientos (Madrid, 1829). OVIEDO, Hist. general (Madrid, 1850); GOMARA, Historia general de las Indias (Antwerp, 1554); FERNÁNDEZ, Historia de Costa Rica durante la dominación español (Madrid, 1889); MOLINA, Bosquejo de Costa Rica (London, 1851); CALVO, República de Costa Rica (San José, 1887); PERALTA, Costa Rica, Nicaragua y Panamá en el siglo XVI (Madrid and Paris, 1883); Idem, Costa Rica y Columbia de 1573 á 1881 (Madrid, 1886); VILLAVICENCIO, Repúlica de Costa Rica (San José, 1886); PITTIER, Apuntamientos sobre el Clima y Geografia de la República de Costa Rica (San José, 1890); MORELOT, Voyage dans l'Amérique centrale (Paris, 1859); BELLY, A travers l'Amérique centrale (Paris, 1872); WAGNER, Die Republik von Costa Rica in central Amerika (Leipzig, 1856); VON SCHERZER, Wanderungen durch die Mittelamerikanischen Freistaaten (Brunswick, 1857); FROEBEL, Aus Amerika (Leipzig, 1857-58); SQUIER, The States of Central America (New York, 1858); The numerous official reports by the Government and counsular reports of U. S. officials; Bureau of American Republics, Costa Rica (Washington, 1892). On Linguistics: LUDEWIG, Literature of American Aboriginal Languages (London, 1858); BRINTON, The American Race (New York, 1891); FERNÁNDEZ, Documentos para la hist. de Costa Rica (San Jose, 1881-86); DÁVILA, Teatro ecca de la primitiva Iglesia de las Indias occid. (Madrid, 1649).

About this page

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

MLA citation. Bandelier, Adolph Francis. "Republic of Costa Rica." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 4. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. <>.

Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by M. Donahue.

Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. Remy Lafort, Censor. Imprimatur. +John M. Farley, Archbishop of New York.

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