Barcelos Rooster from Portugal
"If I am innocent, the rooster will tell"

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In loving memory of
a happy and lifelong friendship
with Marion Passet (1942-2004)
who first pointed my attention to
The Legend of the Barcelos Rooster

The Barcelos Rooster is a charming souvenir from Portugal, and is an important part of the Portuguese national pride. During a visit to Portugal in 1994 I came across this postcard that tells the legend of the rooster in French. I have translated it to English below. 

During a banquet given by a rich landowner in Barcelos, a silver art object was stolen.  One of the guests was accused of the theft, and he was convicted for the crime. Despite the heavy evidence against him, he claimed innocence, and the judge gave him a last chance to prove himself.  When the culprit saw a rooster in a basket next to him, he proclaimed:  "If I am innocent, the rooster will tell". Then the rooster crowed "cock-a-doodle-doo", and the culprit was released.  

The Barcelos Rooster. Portuguese postcard telling The Legend about The Barcelos Rooster.

  • Portuguese Postcard showing the Barcelos Rooster and telling the legend. 

It was a legend of the XIV century which gave rise to the fame of the Rooster of Barcelos.  According to this legend, the inhabitants of the city were very worried about a crime which had gone unsolved.  One day, a pilgrim on his way to St-Jacques-of-Compostelle was passing through the city. Immediately, the suspicion fell on him and despite his protestations of innocence, the man was accused of the crime and was condemned to be hung.

Portuguese Modern Tile Ware decorated with The Barcelos Rooster. Portuguese Postcard of cork, with a print of The Barcelos Rooster.
  • Modern Portuguese tile, inlaid in cork and used on the table to protect it from the heat of a hot serving dish. 
  • Portuguese postcard of the Barcelos Rooster, printed on cork, sent from Portugal to Denmark on 23rd April 1980. 

As he was being led to the gallows, he asked to see the judge who condemned him. His request was granted and he was brought to the judge who was having supper with some guests. The man tried one last time to plead his innocence. In front of the unbelieving eyes of the  gathered guests, he pointed to the roasted rooster and said that to prove his innocence, the cock would crow at the time of his hanging.

There was a roar of laughter from the assembled guests, and the man was taken away. All found the declaration to be very odd, but nobody dared touch the rooster. The moment the man was hung, the roasted rooster stood up on the table and crowed. Amazed, the judge ran to the gallows and found the man with the rope around his neck, but the noose refused to be tightened. The judge immediately released him.  

A few years later, the man returned to Barcelos and had a small monument erected. This monument is preserved today at the Museum of Archaeology of Barcelos. The city of Barcelos is located in the Braga Province, north of the city of Porto. The rooster is present in everyday Portuguese life in many forms. 

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Revised 11 jun 2007 
Copyright © by Ann Mette Heindorff
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