The battle of Ourique took place on July 25, 1139, between Portuguese troops, led by D. Afonso Henriques and Muslim troops coming from various Taifas. Interestingly, the 25th of July was São Tiago’s day, the patron of struggles against the Moors and popularly known as “Mata-Mouros,” which translates to something like the Muslim killer.
Battle of Ourique and the independence of Portugal
This battle was one of the decisive moments in the independence from Portugal because, after this battle, Afonso Henriques called himself “King of Portugal.” In fact, following this battle, Afonso Henriques wrote to Pope Innocent claiming for himself and his descendants the position of King of Portugal, only dependent on Rome, invoking the miracle of Ourique.
The negotiation with the Pope was very long, and the papal approval will only happen decades later in 1179 with the bull Manifestis Probatum. Still, meanwhile, Afonso VII of Castile had already considered Afonso Henriques as his equal by signing the Treaty of Zamora on October 5, 1143.
Where did the Battle of Ourique take place?
Despite being one of the most celebrated battles in Portugal’s history, one of the most curious things is that there are no certainties about where it took place. In reality, some historians are not even sure if the battle of Ourique existed or if it is all just a legend. However, the oldest reference to the battle comes since 1177 in the Chronicle of the Goths.
The most likely and usually accepted place for the battle is in Ourique (formerly called the field of Ourique) in Baixo-Alentejo. At the time, this area would clearly be enemy territory, but an incursion by Afonso Henriques so far to the south is not at all improbable, as it was a usual combat strategy during the Reconquista.
However, there are other alternatives such as Vila Chá de Ourique in Cartaxo, where huge bones were found, or Campo de Ourique, near Leiria. There is even a theory that says it would not be Ourique, but Aurik, in Spain. Also, very little is known about the number of forces involved or the circumstances of the battle. It is only said that the Muslim forces were in greater numbers, but it may also be part of the legend.
In any case, the most credible hypothesis is that Afonso Henriques was sieged in enemy territory and forced to fight against the joint Muslim army of Seville, Badajoz, Évora, Silves, and Santarém. And this is when our Legend of the Battle of Ourique begins.
Legend of the Battle of Ourique
Legend has it that the night before the battle of Ourique, Afonso Henriques was visited by an older man who was familiar to him because he had already appeared in dreams. This elderly gentleman gave him a prophetic revelation about the battle ahead and the future. Also, I told him to leave the camp alone at night in a certain direction. And so, Afonso Henriques did it.
After leaving the camp and being completely isolated, Afonso Henriques is surprised by a ray of light that illuminates everything around him. After a few seconds, he can distinguish the Sign of the Cross and Jesus Christ crucified. The future king of Portugal kneels in emotion and listens to the voice of the Lord, promising victory in that and other battles. In the words of Padre António Vieira, God will have said:
“I am the founder and destroyer of Kingdoms and Empires, and I want in you and your descendants to found an Empire for me, for which my name is taken to foreign nations.Padre António Vieira
You will conquer, you will conquer, and you will not be conquered. You are loved by God because he has set upon you and your offspring the eyes of his mercy until the sixteenth generation, in which the same offspring will be attenuated, but attenuated in it it will set its eyes again. “
Thus, it was God’s design Afonso Henriques to win the battle of Ourique, to create Portugal that would become an empire (of God), to take the Lord’s word to all corners of the world, and that the Portuguese people would be chosen to these great designs and tasks.
Inspired by the divine encounter, Afonso Henriques lead his troops to win the battle, decimating the Moors and killing their 5 Kings. After this victory, the soldiers hailed Afonso Henriques, “King of Portugal.”
There are many variations of the legend, sometimes the old man is a saint, other times, he is Jesus Christ himself. However, the basis and the symbolism are always the same. The first versions of this legend and the first references to the miracle appear in the 15th and 16th centuries in chronicles that glorify the action of D. Afonso Henriques and that describe the divine intervention in favor of Portuguese weapons.
This providentialist design was disseminated and expanded over the centuries, constituting one of the main ideological grounds of the foundation and expansion of Portugal and an instrument of the political propaganda of the Portuguese monarchy. We must always remember the very close relationship between religion and the state throughout this period.
Legend of Ourique and the Portuguese Coat of Arms
The Legend of the Battle of Ourique is so symbolic for Portugal that it is represented in the Coat of Arms, the shield, and the Flag of Portugal. Legend has it that after winning such a battle with divine providence, Dom Afonso Henriques decided that the Portuguese flag would have 5 blue shields loaded with besantes.
The shields symbolize the 5 Moorish Kings won in Batalha and the 5 wounds of Christ, while the bezants would mean the 30 pieces of silver of Judas. To the blue shields loaded with the bezants, we would all come to call “Quinas.” The only change in this part of the national shield was the number of bezants on the shields. Initially, they were more and variable, having subsequently been defined as 5 and were in the form of an “X” (2 + 1 + 2).
So, whether or not the battle existed, the truth is that the Legend of Ourique turns out to be one of the most important foundations of Portugal, and its symbolism was so important for the country that it has been present in all Portuguese flags for almost 900 years. In a way, it can be said that it is the legend of the foundation of Portugal!