The legend of the Portuguese rooster

The Portuguese Rooster (it’s actually Barcelos rooster) is one of the most popular Portuguese symbols. There are no Portuguese who don’t know it, and even many foreigners already heard about it … if it’s not for anything else, for its curious and colorful design. But, how did a rooster become one of the country’s greatest symbols? Let’s explore the legend of the Barcelos rooster!

Well, first things first… we need to clarify if it’s the Portuguese rooster or Barcelos rooster. The rooster came form the city of Barcelos, and in Portugal it’s known as “Galo de Barcelos” which directly translates to Barcelos rooster or cockerel. However, foreigners tend to call the Portuguese rooster instead. No one in Portugal calls it “Galo Português” / Portuguese rooster. It’s even a little weird for us, but version is OK.

Portuguese Rooster Legend

According to legend, Barcelos’s inhabitants were extremely concerned about a crime committed, and the perpetrator was not found. One day, a stranger appears, a Galician who (because he is a foreigner) was immediately associated with the crime, and his presence was suspected. After all, who else could it be?

Despite his protests and allegations of innocence, the authorities quickly accused him and arrested him for the crime. Nobody believed the Galician was a pilgrim on the way to Santiago de Compostela. Galego claimed to be a Christian devotee and was solely fulfilling his promise to go to Santiago.

Thus, and as was customary in the Middle Ages, the Galician was quickly sentenced to death by hanging. But, before his execution, he asked to be taken to the judge who sentenced him.

His request was accepted, and he was taken to the house of the magistrate who, at that moment, was at a banquet with his family and friends. Once again, the Galician protested and claimed innocence! In a moment of despair and to everyone’s astonishment, the Galician pointed to the table and said: “It is as certain that I am innocent as this rooster crows when they hang me!”

Portuguese Rooster Legend

Of course, laughter and humorous comments did not lack immediately, but nobody dared to touch said cock. The Galician was then taken to the gallows, and at the moment of hanging, what seemed impossible happened: the cock got up and started to sing.

From that moment on, no one doubted the innocence of the pilgrim sentenced to death. The judge ran to the gallows in the square and found the poor Galician on the rope but still alive. The rope was around his neck, but the knot loosened and protected the pilgrim from being strangled.

After being released, the pilgrim immediately continued his way to Santiago. The legend also says that years later, the same pilgrim returned to Barcelos and erected a monument (a stone cross) related to these events – Monument of Senhor do Galo in praise of the Virgin Mary and Santiago Maior.

Obviously there are several adaptations of this legend, one where the owner of the inn accuses the pilgrim of theft, another who owns and accuses rape, another where the pilgrim travels with his son, but these are the key elements.

Huge Portuguese rooster in Barcelos

Barcelos rooster stone cross

This curious legend of the Rooster of Barcelos is presented in one of the city’s monuments, the 17th century stone cross – a piece of the city’s archaeological museum. It’s is located in front of the ruins of the Palace of the Counts of Barcelos. In this cross, we can see the main characters of this legend, the pilgrim, the hanged man, and of course, the rooster.

As mentioned above, it is said that the cruise was built by the Galician himself, who returned to Barcelos to honor the cockerel that saved him from hanging, São Tiago, and the Virgin Mary.

In addition to the historic stone cross, nowadays it is possible to see representations of the rooster scattered throughout the city of Barcelos, some larger others small, some more faithful to the typical design, others more modern, but it is undoubtedly a curious characteristic of the beautiful and interesting city of Barcelos.

Portuguese rooster story

Barcelos rooster Popularity

With such a curious legend, the rooster naturally became a symbol of the city of Barcelos. Local artists, and especially potters, proudly began exhibiting their work, thus creating the image of the hand-decorated clay rooster in an extremely colorful way.

However, during the Estado Novo (20th-century dictatorship in Portugal), the Barcelos rooster becomes one of Portugal’s icons, namely in 1935 at the Portuguese Popular Art Exhibition, and the following year in an exhibition in Lisbon. Salazar (like all dictators) loved national symbols that represented national pride to foster the love for the country. It is therefore not surprising it has become so popular and a symbol of the country.

Galo de Barcelos legend
Several Portuguese Cockerels in Barcelos’ fair

Portuguese rooster design

The Portuguese rooster does not have a unique design, and each artisan gives it its personal touch, but as we said above, it is usually extremely colorful. The most popular version of the Barcelos rooster is in clay and is on top of a blue base. The rooster is black with hearts, streaks, and colored dots (red, yellow, green, etc.).

It is said that the first cockerel was created by Domingos Côto, a potter from Galegos Santa Maria. Since then, the rooster’s popularity has been growing, spreading across the country and the world.

Nowadays, it is possible to find roosters everywhere and in different materials, wood, crockery, or fabrics. However, clay rooster is the most typical and traditional. It is also possibly the most famous souvenir in Portugal, and the best place to shop is in Barcelos.

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The Legend of the Portuguese Rooster

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