Barcelos Rooster, a Portuguese icon

Portuguese Rooster, Galo de Barcelos, or the Barcelos Rooster is one of the icons of Portugal. Was it always been like this? What does it mean?

When traveling in Portugal, it is unavoidable to see the Galo de Barcelos.

Galo de Barcelos, the Barcelos Rooster, the Portuguese Rooster … several names for the same thing.

You can find them in souvenir shops of the most diverse categories but also in other commercial establishments such as restaurants, bars, or even fashion stores.

In any city or town, there will always be Galos de Barcelos for sale. 

You can find them made out of clay, porcelain, or even metal.

One curious thing nowadays is that most of those that are for sale in Portugal must be produced in China or another country of more economical production. It is called the globalization of which not even the Portuguese Roosters can’t hide from.

Let me share some of the most frequently asked questions I get regarding the Galo de Barcelos:

    • What is the meaning of the Rooster of Barcelos, or Portuguese Rooster?
    • Is there a story behind the Portuguese Rooster?
    • Are they from all over the country?
    • How to buy a genuinely Portuguese Barcelos Rooster?

I will try to answer these questions, being sure that you can find other answers or stories that I do not know. I leave the invitation to anyone who has different stories to send them to me by email.

In this post, as in all other posts on this site, whenever I have a broader knowledge of the subject, I return to the article and make updates. Thus, this site will never be a finished product but always with possible updates.

There is a mixture of legend and historical facts that led to the construction of Galo de Barcelos as a national icon, as we see it today.

In this mixture of legend and facts, we also have the age or time factor as an ingredient of this story since the legend and the historical facts are very distant in time.

The legend of the Portuguese Rooster, or Barcelos Rooster

At a certain point, perhaps around the 16th century, there were two pilgrims, father, and son, Galicians on the Portuguese Way of Santiago.

On their way, they passed Barcelos and stayed in Barcelinhos.

Barcelinhos is a town crossed by the Cávado River, in front of Barcelos but on the opposite bank.

The lady innkeeper, having been captivated by the young man, tried to seduce him.

The young man, being very focused on his role as a pilgrim, did not want to deviate his mind to what at that time would be considered a sin.

Naturally, the innkeeper was furious when she was passed over, and, not wanting to know the noble motives the boy presented, she was filled with desires for revenge.

The next day, father and son retook the road to complete another stage of the Way.

They were quite close to the village yet when they were reached by horsemen who today would identify themselves as police.

The horsemen said they were being accused of stealing silver cutlery from the inn.

As soon as pilgrims began to be searched, the cutlery was found among the son’s belongings.

The boy, admiringly, tried to explain that he knew nothing about that and he was not the one putting those objects there.

Taken to the judge, it was not long before the judge found the boy to be guilty of theft and whose penalty for such a crime was gallows.

Justice was very quick those days, so the boy should be hanged at sunset on the same day.

The unresigned father tried everything to prove the boy’s innocence.

After the father had spoken to the judge several times, the magistrate agreed to receive this desperate father once again while he was having dinner.

While the judge had rooster for dinner, he said: for me to believe in the innocence of your son and absolve him, this rooster needed to get up and sing.

Immediately, the roasted chicken stood up and sang as if it was the break of day.

The judge, simultaneously impressed by the rooster and touched by the potential injustice, started to run towards the place of the gallows.

They could still arrive in time to save the boy, as the sun was already setting but totally yet.

Meanwhile, by the gallows, the boy already resigned to his destiny. He had said his prayers, received the last sacraments, and the executioner was ordered to open the trapdoor that would remove the floor below the youngest pilgrim feet.

When the boy expected to feel the rope around his neck steeling his life, he realized something was suspending him and keeping his body weightless. At that same time, his father and the judge arrived at the scene.

Everyone was able to witness the miracle in which Santiago stopped the execution of an innocent.

Note: this legend has many other versions, either at the time it happened or in the characters being just one pilgrim instead of two, in the stolen object, in the ending of the story, etc, etc … I opted for this version because I find it more interesting.

A more objective explanation of the appearance of the Rooster of Barcelos, as we know it today.

In 1931, the Estado Novo was beginning.

Organizational work was underway at the International Congress of Critique, concerning theater, music, and also cinema. This congress took place in Estoril in September 1931.

One of the members of the Organizing Committee of this congress was Leitão de Barros.

Leitão de Barros, 1896/1967, was a renowned Portuguese filmmaker, playwright, painter, and journalist. He produced several Portuguese movies that were part of some generations.

To obtain representative gifts from Portugal to offer to some foreign entities at the mentioned congress, Leitão de Barros, asks for help from the Minho journalist Artur Maciel.

Artur Maciel was also well known by the society at the time, himself knowledgeable of the arts and crafts of northern artisans.

According to what I know, Artur Maciel would have spent 400 Escudos at the Feira de Barcelos where he gets clay roosters, richly decorated.

Escudo was the Portuguese currency at the time.

The roosters were later offered to those entities.

António Ferro, a famous writer, and politician who directed the National Propaganda Secretariat, was delighted with these roosters and took them to an International Fair in Geneva in 1935.

National Propaganda Secretariat was the responsible entity for the propaganda of the Estado Novo.

This is how Galo de Barcelos, in its most modern version, made its first significant appearance as an icon of Portugal.

At the Exhibition of the Portuguese World, in 1940, the rooster is widely sold. From this moment, we have the modern Barcelos Rooster ultimately disseminated by Portuguese homes across the country.

Meaning of the Portuguese Rooster

I can do it as a Portuguese and not so much as a tour guide or as an interested person in History.

I am not sure what to say about the meaning of the rooster because it is not something that is said or thought when we see a Rooster of Barcelos.

“The truth always comes out on top” is a Portuguese saying that perhaps best exemplifies the meaning of the Barcelos Rooster both in legend and in its factual truth.

In the legend, the boy, after being unjustly accused, ends up being saved by a miracle.

In fact, we can see one representative icon of Portugal coming from a rural northern reality and being produced by artisans. We also can see the truth of the Portuguese soul, or part of it, being represented.

In these two versions, the truth is revealed despite its winding paths.

Where to buy or how to choose a real Barcelos Rooster

The Rooster of Barcelos has had many shapes throughout History, so it can be found in several shapes and forms.

Anyway, for now, I can suggest that you check the most popular one accessing the Barcelos City Hall website. Please access here.

This will give you a suggestion of what to choose.

Where to buy them, it will depend on where you are. If you are in a big city, try to get away from trinkets stores if that is not what you want.

I hope you liked to know a little more about Galo de Barcelos, or the Portuguese Rooster as it is often called.

If you have news of a different story, I ask you to send it to me since stories and legends are as finite as the grains of sand on a beach.

IMPORTANT: Please send me your best picture of a Galo de Barcelos 🙂

Carpe diem,

David Monteiro

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