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The Rooster of Barcelos

Elaine Marie Jordan

Anyone traveling to Portugal has seen the charming brightly painted Barcelos Rooster. He is everywhere – rows of decorated baked clay roosters and uncountable figures painted on hand towels, plates, tiles, aprons, etc... It is likely the visitor, like me, will bring home at least one as a souvenir.

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Once home, I started to wonder. What is the significance of this colorful rooster so familiar in the Land of Mary? Surely in this country so devoted to Our Lord and Our Lady, the rooster has an interesting origin with a Catholic tone. In fact, a miracle in the 15th century, worked through the intercession of Our Lady and St. James for a poor pilgrim condemned to die for a crime he did not commit, that made the Barcelos rooster a national symbol.

Let me tell you this most interesting history.

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Open air stands display lines of Roosters
In the 15th century, the inhabitants of Barcelos were very upset about a terrible crime that had gone unsolved. As alarm was growing, a pilgrim on his way to St. James of Compostella to fulfill a promise had the bad fortune to pass through the city. The pilgrim had a great devotion to Our Lady and the Apostle venerated in Compostella.

Immediately, suspicion fell on him. Even though he swore he was innocent, the man was accused of the crime and was condemned to be hung.

As he was being led to the gallows, he asked to be taken into the presence of the judge who condemned him. This request was granted, and he was brought to the residence of the magistrate at the hour he was dining with some friends. The pilgrim swore to his innocence before the unbelieving eyes of the judge and his guests. Then, unexpectedly, he pointed to the roasted rooster on the table and said, “I tell you now that as proof of my innocence, this cock will crow at the hour of my hanging.”

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The Cross of the Lord of the Rooster, 16th century
His proclamation was met with laughter and mocking comments. Nonetheless, no one at the table dared to touch the rooster.

A short time later, as the sentence was being carried out, the roasted rooster stood up on the table and crowed. No one doubted the innocence of the condemned man! The judge rushed to the square and found the poor man with the cord around his neck, about to be tightened. The judge immediately released him and told him to go in peace.

Some years later, the pilgrim returned to Barcelos and had a cross erected in honor of the Virgin and St. James, who had interceded for him with the miracle of the Barcelos Rooster. The Cross of the Lord of the Rooster [Cruzeiro do Senhor do Galo] still exists, but I am sorry to say, it is hidden away in the Archeological Museum of Barcelos. It seems to me it should be proudly displayed to trumpet the grand miracle worked for the pilgrim who asked Our Lady and St. James to come to his assistance in his moment of need.

The Cock of Barcelos, however, is not so easy to hide. And for simple men with faith, its message is clear: Our Lady and the Saints are there to help in every trial. Through the intercession of Our Lady, God gives justice to the righteous man.

Posted March 15, 2008

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