I’ve always been intrigued by the brightly coloured cockerels (roosters) that are for sale in all the souvenir shops here in Portugal. Why are they so popular? Curiosity finally got the better of me so I decided to do a little research.
The brightly coloured rooster is called the Galo de Barcelos and is one of the national symbols of Portugal. Apparently the Galo de Barcelos symbolises honesty, integrity, trust and honour; everyone should have one in their house to bring them luck. Artesanatos (pottery shops) and tourist shops are filled with the brightly coloured Galo de Barcelos rooster souvenirs such as pottery models, printed tea towels, table cloths and key rings to name a few. So when you visit Portugal you can’t return home without one!
I was discussing this very point with my French son-in-law and he informed me France also used the cockerel “Le Coq Gaulois or the Gallic Rooster” as one of their national symbols. I was not sure whether he was joking when he said
“It was because it was the only bird that could stand with both feet in the “pooh” and still crow about it”
Hmmm I wonder?
Sorry I digress…So how did the Galo de Barcelos become the symbol of Portugal?
The legend of the Galo de Barcelos has been passed from generation to generation and while there the stories differ, the ending is always the same.
These two are my favourite:
A pilgrim from the Spanish Province of Galiza was passing through the town of Barcelos when a crime was committed. The authorities, not having any other suspects arrested the pilgrim and sentenced him to be hanged. The pilgrim asked to see the magistrate who had condemned him in order to plead his innocence. An audience was granted and the pilgrim was taken to the magistrate’s house while he was having a banquet. However, despite the pilgrim’s desperate please the magistrate remained unconvinced as to his innocence.In a desperate attempt the pilgrim pleaded again and then pointed to a magnificent roasted rooster on a silver platter waiting to be served to the guests.
“Lord God” said the pilgrim “as Peter, your servant denied you at the cock’s crow, would that you show my innocence as your humble servant by this cock’s crow?”
Much to everyone’s amazement the cock came to life and started to crow and the pilgrim was immediately released.
An alternative ending….
In desperation the pilgrim pointed to the roasted rooster on the banquet table and said
“As surely as I am innocent will that rooster crow if l am hanged!”
The guests and the magistrates roared with laughter at the pilgrims claims and he was led away to be hanged. The guests, however, lost their appetite for the rooster and it remained untouched on the platter. The hangman applied the noose and as the pilgrim was being hanged the rooster stood up and began to crow. Realising he had made a grave error the magistrate rushed from the table to stop the hanging. Luckily the noose was faulty and the pilgrim survived and was released.
Many years later the pilgrim returned to the town of Barcelos and erected a monument to the Virgin and St James (San Tiago).
The great thing about legends passed from generation to generation is the stories do vary. I thought it was an interesting idea not only to share the story, but also share the alternative endings – which do your prefer?
Please share the legend behind your country’s national symbol
Other Portuguese legends: How to make Soup from a Stone