Portuguese Culture

The Legend of the Barcelos Rooster

If you travel to Portugal, you will find the Barcelos rooster in many places, especially in tourist shops. It’s a national symbol of Portugal. But how did a rooster become a symbol of Portugal and what is its meaning?

The Barcelos Rooster Legend

Barcelos Rooster/Wikipedia

During the Middle Ages, a robbery was committed in the town of Barcelos in northern Portugal. There were no suspects to the crime.

Around the same time, a pilgrim from Spain was traveling through the area. The townspeople suspected him of committing the crime despite the pilgrim’s pleas of innocence. He was arrested, brought before the judge, and convicted.

When the pilgrim was about to be hanged, he was granted a last wish. The pilgrim begged to be brought before the judge. His wish was granted and he was brought to the judge’s house where he was having a banquet.

The pilgrim again pled his innocence and pointed to the roasted rooster laying on the banquet table. He claimed that to prove his innocence, the rooster would come back to life and crow. The judge and his guests laughed and mocked the pilgrim as he was immediately swept off to the gallows.

No longer hungry, the judge had the rooster removed from the table. To everyone’s surprise, the rooster rose and began to crow. Immediately, the judge rushed to the gallows to stop the hanging, finally believing the pilgrim was innocent. He arrived just as the man was hanged. However, the knot in the noose had not been properly tied and the pilgrim fell to the ground, alive. He was set free.

The Barcelos Rooster as a National Symbol

Domingos Côto is believed to have been the first person to turn the Barcelos rooster into an object. He created the rooster out of clay. As the figurines spread across Portugal, other artisans began to copy his work. Colorful Barcelos roosters began appearing in ceramics, fabrics, and woodwork and quickly became souvenirs for travelers.

Dictator Antonio Salazar became one of the main people responsible for turning the Barcelos rooster into a national symbol of Portugal. During the Estado Novo (20th-century dictatorship of Portugal), the Barcelos rooster climbed to national acclaim. Salazar, like many dictators, loved national symbols. They represent national pride and were used to foster love of the country.

The rooster is said to symbolize faith, honesty, justice, and luck. It’s believed that if you put a Barcelos rooster in your home, good fortune and happiness will soon follow.


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