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.
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.
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.
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.
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