Souvenir Barcelos cockerels

If you visit any tourist destination in Portugal, you’ll undoubtedly find at least one version of the cheerful Barcelos cockerel dominating most souvenir shops. But what on earth does a cockerel have to do with Portugal? I hear you ask.

Well, there’s a legend about that…

As the story goes, back in the middle ages a stranger arrived in Barcelos, claiming to be following the pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. Having failed to seduce the pilgrim, the scorned innkeeper took her revenge by accusing him of theft.

Despite protesting his innocence, he was sentenced to death by hanging. In a bid to avoid this terrible fate, the pilgrim begged to see the judge who had passed the sentence.

The miracle of the Barcelos cockerel

The judge happened to be eating dinner with some friends when the man arrived. The prisoner pointed to a roasted cockerel on the dinner table and proclaimed “It is as certain that I am innocent as it is certain that this rooster will crow when they hang me.” Needless to say, he was laughed out of the room and dragged off to the gallows.

The official and his friends decided against eating the bird but they were still taken aback when the rooster actually stood up and crowed, thus proving the man’s innocence. Realising his mistake, the judge rushed to the gallows to try and prevent the innocent man from being hanged.

By the time he arrived, the pilgrim was dangling from a rope. Luckily, the knot had been badly tied, although another version has it that St. James stepped in to take his weight. Either way, the man was still alive and the judge ordered him to be cut down immediately and freed.

Lasting reminder

If that had been me, it’s unlikely that I would want to go back to Barcelos but the pilgrim did, years later, and built a stone cross monument to St. James (São Tiago) and the Virgin. Nowadays, the “Crucifix to the Lord of the Rooster” (Cruzeiro do Senhor do Galo) can still be seen at the Archeological Museum of Barcelos.

Legend of the Barcelos cockerel depicted on a stone cross
Legend of the Barcelos cockerel depicted on a stone cross. Hanged pilgrim saved by St. James and the crowing of a cooked cockerel.

The legend has become so popular and ingrained in local culture that on the third weekend of October, Barcelos hosts an annual Roasted Cockerel Gastronomy Contest. If you miss that, you’ll still be able to go cockerel spotting to find the giant cockerels dotted around the city.

Barcelos cockerel in Barcelos
Barcelos cockerel in Barcelos

If you would like a Barcelos rooster for your own home, take a look at this list of cockerel related goodies.

Or pick up a unique handcrafted figurine from Barcelos or a quality craft shop in larger tourist destinations including Lisbon and Porto.

Here are 9 other things to see and do in Barcelos

Typical ceramic figurines from Barcelos include heavy-browed women and cockerels.
Typical ceramic figurines from Barcelos include heavy-browed women and cockerels.

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Barcelos cockerel legend
Barcelos cockerel legend


  1. Interesting story! There are many variations on the legend: the one our Portuguese tour guide told us was that the scorned innkeeper had accused the pilgrim of rape, not theft.

  2. I just came across your article and I really enjoyed! 🙂

    As you know, the cockerel of Barcelos is one of the most common symbols of Portugal. With that being said, pottery has been a popular handicraft activity in Barcelos, it’s an artistic activity which has been feeding a lot of families for centuries. Several artists are represented there, especially the famous Rosa Ramalho.

    For anyone who enjoys this kind of activity I recommend you and everyone to visit the The Pottery Museum in Barcelos, (if you haven’t already!) it’s possible to observe contemporaneous artists and a lot of different kinds of cockerels of Barcelos handmade by several artists!

    1. Author

      Hi Diana, I love the ceramics from Barcelos. Last time I was there, I visited the tower and saw lots of figurines on display. I have yet to make it to the museum but next time…

  3. Congratulations…..lucky you. Hope u have a great time xxx

  4. Can I fit in your suitcase??

    1. Author

      Worth a try 🙂

  5. Congratulations on the prize Julie, how lucky!! Look forward to reading your post about your visit to Barcelos.

    1. Author

      Thanks, Sami. It was a welcome surprise 🙂

  6. Good story, I have one of those souvenir cockerels, I must have bought it in about 1987! Thanks for reminding me about it!

    1. Author

      You’re welcome. They’re quite sweet, really. Although I’m not sure I’d want one of the big ones!

    1. Author

      Thanks, I was intending to visit Barcelos one day so this has moved it higher up the list.

  7. Congrats on your fabulous prize! And also on another great post. I could read these historical tales of Portuguese life til the cows came home.

  8. I have a very tiny Barcelos cockerel on my bookcase in Tavira. Can’t remember where we came by it but it definitely wasn’t in Barcelos, you lucky duck!

  9. I love this story 🙂
    In fact, I am considering the Barcelos Cockerel being my next tattoo 🙂

    1. Author

      Oh you should! it would make a great tattoo 🙂 Will look out for photos on your blog…

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