What is the “Galo de Barcelos”?

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.

Galo de Barcelos
Galo de Barcelos

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

46 thoughts on “What is the “Galo de Barcelos”?

Add yours

  1. The rooster of Barcelos is not a national symbol of Portugal. It’s “from” Barcelos. Otherwise it’s a piece of kitsch or souvenir without any meaning. It was made “national” as a touristic piece by the former regime quite recently actually – they choose several local “figures” and have painted them for a tourist appeal.

    Portugal does not have any national animal as an official symbol. You’re being naive, sorry.


  2. And do you know that the supposed monument erected by the pilgrim to the Virgin and St James (São Tiago) exists? It’s the Cruzeiro do Senhor do Galo and can be found in the Archaeological Museum of Barcelos.


  3. I liked both versions but the first is more plausible… I was a bit worried for the pilgrim as many did meet their end in the inquisition… so he was saved by a … rooster! Hmmmm 🙂


  4. I’ve seen a lot of roosters lately but this is the only explanation that makes any sense- In the Tuscany region of Italy for instance… And then there are roosters ALL OVER Hawaii but they don’t symbolize anything- just a bunch of yard birds breeding all over the islands.


  5. I have several at my mother´s home, one of them is from my grandmother she used to love “Galo de barcelos” specially the old handpainted ones. many families in Portugal still have one of this “Galos” even though I think it´s not so popular anymore…it´s a pitty because I find it really nice, it´s like medieval design!


  6. Hey PiP. This is totally irrelevent, but, can you find me? lol…I deleted country living72, and I’m wheninthecountry I don’t know what I’m doing:-(


    1. Stephanie,
      I’ve popped across to your blog and all your posts have gone. I’m no expert but I’m sure you could have changed your name somehow 😦
      OK I’d better subscribe to your new blog 🙂 What are you like? LOL 🙂


  7. Intriguing legend. That’s one thing about “westernized” Australia – I think we are really too young a country to have such legends. Yes, we have Ned Kelly, of course.

    The Aborigines have many legends dating back thousands of years.

    I like the first ending better too. The second is a little too close for comfort, for me!


  8. How fun to read the legend of the Galo de Barcelos! I prefer the first ending, though both are fun. You have a lovely blog with beautiful pictures. I’m Irish and Welsh but American through and through. I have the Welsh love for poetry and music and the Irish appreciation for wit and fun, but for the life of me, I can’t think of any legends about our American symbol of the American Eagle except that Ben Franklin would rather have had it be a turkey instead of the American Eagle! Somehow a turkey doesn’t seem quite as majestic as the American Eagle to me. I’ll be back to learn more about your beautiful country!


    1. Hi Jackie and welcome! Irish x Welsh now there’s a grand combination. 8) The Irish are certainly full of wit and my Welsh friend is kindness itself. (not sure if she is poetic though) 🙂

      I think the national symbol of USA is the bald eagle and the flower is the Rose, national symbol of Wales is it the leek although for some reason I think it maybe the dragon…and Ireland is it the shamrock or leprichaun?
      I’ve visited your blog great post on shares, cares and wild hairs


  9. Thanks for sharing this! I grew up in a town outside of Boston where most of the people were from the Portuguese Acores. I was given a Galo de Barcelos as a gift from a friend and had no idea that story behind it.


  10. Love your blog, very very good. I am a British born Portuguese descendant living in the UK and long to be living in sunny climes (not necessarily Portugal), but have not taken that step due to many reasons, many pointed out in your blog, lack of jobs, and my main beef with Portugal is the terrible driving over there. Unfortunately I only get to visit Portugal once a year to visit my family, who have all left blighty and now lead the same miserable existence they did here in the UK, plus the sunshine, bad driving, bad service and the many other joys of living in Portugal.

    I notice you don’t have a FACEBOOK share button on your articles, just Twitter. Just a suggestion, I think you should add one, you have a very cool blog and would be nice to see more people reading it.


    1. Hi Paulo and welcome 8)
      Thank you so much for your kind comments; they mean alot to me especially as you are Portuguese. Which part of Portugal are your parents now based? It’s sometimes tough living here due to our lack of language skills, but this is not through want of trying; a plank of wood would have more success remembering all the words and grammar, than me. I keep trying and one day I will succeed 🙂 This means every simple task becomes a major challenge and for the best part I try to look on the funny side of it The lack of jobs here is so sad and talking to some of the youngsters who have left college recently, they are desperate. However, it’s the same in the UK – probably the same everywhere! Portugal has so many plus points it’s a shame they are not marketed better.

      My next project is to research and cook the traditional Portuguese Easter bread so if you Mum has the recipe I would be grateful. Facebook, hmmmm I’m not keen on it and it’s still under consideration 🙂 We will see 🙂


  11. I’m on board with the first ending too! Thanks for the story. I actually have a magnet Galo that I brought back from Portugal a number of years ago. Nice to know the story behind it!


  12. Miss Piglet, I will vote for the first rendition of the story. I’d just as soon have the pilgrim released and not have to “see” the noose around his neck. And, I would have to do research on the origins of the national symbol of the U. S.–which is, I believe, the eagle.


    1. Hi nr
      I also prefered the first as it seemed more plausable than a faulty knot on the hangman’s noose. LOL 🙂 Having said that I’m not sure how plausable a cooked Rooster crowing is…hey ho. It’s a little story to tell the grandchildren when they arrive 🙂 Thanks for the link to your post I’ll “click” across and check it out!


  13. A pilgrim from the Spanish Province of Galiza is my pick. What a beautiful legend and I love all the colors of the Galo de Barcelos. I also like ornaments with lots of color. Thank you for sharing this beautiful legend.


  14. Great post!!! Thanks for the information…I always wondered what the story was behind those, one of my ex’s Mom’s had tons of them…mind you she was a little crazy, so I don’t know how good they worked for her 🙂


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