Can a common good be held in a pig? Ordinary conflicts over the ownership of assets of the souls in eighteenth century Spain

Politics of the common (16th – 19th century)
By Thomas Glesener

The “pig of souls” was a common practice throughout southern Europe during the Ancien Régime, consisting in collectively feeding a pig before putting it into a lottery for its meat to be used at masses in memory of the dead. Ethnographic studies based on the contemporary survivals of this phenomenon have placed it on the side of religious beliefs, community rites, and syncretism between popular religion and Christianity. Based on a small number of cases kept in the archives of Navarra in Spain, this article aims to counterbalance this interpretation by seeking to highlight the political dimension of this practice. It appears that the question of the ownership of the pig, as a property consecrated to souls and therefore considered inalienable, was at the heart of conflicts between parish priests and local magistrates. Far from being an irenic practice, the pig of souls crystallizes a struggle between local actors who sought to build their authority over the community by demonstrating their legitimacy to administrate the goods destined to the dead. By studying the ownership claims of the various actors, this article analyzes the ways in which the notions of “public,” “sacred,” and “common” were in competition in rural communities of the Ancien Régime. Depending on the status assigned to the pig, different conceptions of the locality, its territory and its membership confront each other.


  • property
  • common goods
  • parish
  • pig
  • history
  • Navarra
  • citizenship
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