One of the most curious national symbols of Portugal is the “Galo de Barcelos” (Barcelos rooster), usually represented by a colourful ceramic rooster decorated with hearts and flowers...
It may seem strange for a country to be represented by a rooster, but the story that is at the origin of this colourful image is a perfect example of how ancient folktales and oral traditions have crossed Portugal from North to South throughout centuries, evolving into national symbols that represent the country’s moral compass.
The legend behind the “Portuguese good luck cock” sheds light on the importance of faith, justice and honour in the Portuguese culture and way of life…
The Legend of the “Galo de Barcelos” (Barcelos Rooster)
Legend has it that a long time ago, in the northern town of Barcelos, an unknown Galician was arrested and accused of a crime. However, the man swore innocence, alleging that he was only passing through those lands on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela.
Sentenced to death on the gallows, the man asked to be brought before the judge who had sentenced him. When permission was granted, they took him to the residence of the magistrate, who was feasting with some friends at the time. The Galician reaffirmed his innocence and, faced with the incredulity of those present, pointed to the roasted rooster that was on the table and exclaimed:
"As certain as I am innocent, that rooster will sing when they hang me!"
All those present laughed at the absurdity of such a claim, but no one touched the rooster. And what seemed impossible happened: when the pilgrim was hung, the rooster stood up on the table and sang.
Realising that he had made a mistake, the judge ran to the gallows and discovered that the Galician could still be saved thanks to a badly made knot. The man was immediately released and sent away in peace.
Some years later, the Galician returned to Barcelos to carve the Monument of the Lord of the Rooster, in praise of the Virgin Mary and Santiago Maior. This monument still exists and can be seen at the Archaeological Museum of Barcelos.
Inspired by this legend, clay figurines representing the Galo de Barcelos rapidly became a symbol of wisdom, honesty and simplicity. The image of the Galo de Barcelos held such a strong cultural and symbolic importance that in 1935 it represented Portugal for the first time in Geneva, at the Portuguese Popular Art Exhibition. One year later, this exhibition repeats itself, in Lisbon, with extraordinary success.
But it was only from the 1950s onwards that the Portuguese Barcelos Rooster became a symbol of national tourism and Portuguese culture, going beyond the borders of the municipality that gave it its name.
The famous Barcelos cockerel is also known as the “Portuguese good luck rooster”, for the Portuguese believe that having one at home brings good luck!