Spain’s designated National Historical Landmark of La Alberca is a charming, traditional medieval village. And part of that tradition involves an officially blessed pig living on the streets for six months every year, sustained by the charity of the town’s residents.
The pig — known as “El Marrano de San Antón,” or “The Pig of St. Anthony” — is blessed and released into the village on July 13, which is the feast day of St. Anthony of Padua. With a bell around its neck, it spends the next several months roaming the streets, being fed by whoever, and often being taken in by one of the residents to spend the night.
The pig’s adorable free ride comes to an end on January 17, which is the feast day of St. Anthony of Egypt (a shrine to whom is located on the edge of town). Historically, on that day the pig was presented to the poorest family in town. Today, however, the pig is raffled off as part of a day-long ceremony, with the proceeds going to a selected charity or NGO. Local delicacies of this pig-rich region such as black ham, pork loin, and chorizos can be found in the traditional tapas bars in town.
The pig’s abrupt transition from venerated guest to food source isn’t the only slightly uncomfortable aspect of this otherwise heartwarming tradition, though. Its origins apparently date back to the days of the Spanish Inquisition, when Jewish and Muslim residents of La Alberca were keen to (or obliged to) prove the sincerity of their all-but-forced conversion to Christianity by publicly raising a non-kosher/non-halal animal.
Visitors to La Alberca during the pig’s salad days can see it hanging out and — if lucky — rub its piggy belly. The statue erected in honor of so many Marranos de San Anton is located in the plaza of the village’s parish church. Childless couples wanting children have historically rubbed the statue’s, er, child-making parts for good luck.