rooster of Barcelos galo de Barcelos

What is the history of the symbols of Portugal?

rooster of Barcelos galo de Barcelos

Portugal’s rooster of Barcelos, or galo de Barcelos in Portuguese.

Not counting the flag or the coat of arms, there are a few symbols of Portugal that you will undoubtedly see on any journey here. Here are two.

The Rooster of Barcelos The small black rooster is a curious object in Portuguese folklore. The story accompanies a 17th century calvary, from the city of Barcelos.

Today the ceramic rooster is found in nearly every touristy shop and on countless postcards. But it stems from a legend in Northern Portugal where a mans life was nearly determined from a cooked dinner.

A pilgrim was making the pilgrimage to St James’s resting place of  Santiago de Compostela, and passed through the Braga county in Northern Portugal. Unfortunately for the pilgrim, the whole town was on the hunt for a thief who had stole the silverware from a rich landowner.

Despite declaring his innocence, the court was unconvinced and sentenced the pilgrim to death by hanging. In his final request, he pled his case once more to the authorities, just as they were sitting for dinner. It is as certain that I am innocent as it is certain that this rooster will crow when they hang me.” 

Unsatisfied with his defence, he was sent away to be hung. But, losing their appetites, the dinner was postponed and the rooster never was ate. On the minute of his hanging, the rooster came to life, just as the man declared. Luckily, St James had intercepted and the poor pilgrims life was spared not by a pardon, but by a terribly knotted rope.

Sardine Lisbon St. Anthony

Legend has it that sardines were willing to listen to St. Anthony.

The Sardine

Lisbon is home to the sardine trinket and the sardine festival, both of which honour St Anthony. In the 13th century, St Anthony – the patron saint of Lisbon – left to Italy to preach his gospels.

Unfortunately for him, only the sardines would listen. While the people of Rimini, Italy ignored him as he spoke along the shoreline, it is said that the sea was filled with millions of sardines, heads above the water, listening to his every word.

Now-a-days the sardine is a symbol of love as well. St Anthony also doubled as the matchmaker saint with boys and girls going crazy to invoke the saints help.

A single person may hold water in their mouths for hours on end, waiting for the name of their love to be spoken. They may write the name of their crush only to put it in a bowl of water and hope St Anthony works his magic.

Or, if all else fails, they’ll take the idol of St Anthony and place it upside down in the garden until he find them a true love. The sardine festival in June is one of the most high spirited times in the old city of Lisbon, with the sardines being sold on every street corner and people joining for dancing and drinking at all hours of the day.

While both symbols developed from religious stories, today they both present symbols of good luck in life, love and fortune.

If you are interested in joining a tour of Portugal that takes you to some of the most historic cities, towns with a focus on food as well as past and present culture - check out our Portugal tours.

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