There are several stories, myths and legends along the country, according to the traditions and historical happenings of each region. Their origins are not clearly determined and they have passed on from person-to-person with an important meaning or symbolism for the Portuguese culture. They usually include some true facts, places or characters but with mythical or invented qualities. Sometimes, they have a deep symbolic meaning or include spiritual beliefs of the culture in which they originate and are used to explain facts which are unclear. The great power of these stories is a major reason why they survive for so long, sometimes even hundreds thousands of years.
O Galo de Barcelos
(The Rooster from Barcelos)
O Galo de Barcelos is the unofficial symbol of Portugal. It is represented by a ceramic rooster and it is represented in various objects such as t-shirts, key-chains, tablecloths, etc. The Rooster of Barcelos is difficult to miss wherever it appears because of its lively colours which seem to show the love of life displayed by the Portuguese people. It symbolizes honesty, integrity, trust and honor.
There is a legend associated to this icon. So, as the legend says, the inhabitants of Barcelos, a small town in the north of Portugal, were quite alarmed with a crime, and this all the more because they could not discover the criminal. One day, a pilgrim on his way to Santiago de Compostela became suspect at once.
The authorities decided to seize him and in spite of all his oaths of innocence nobody believed him. Nobody thought it credible that the man was on his way to worship a well-known saint in Galicia, Spain. Finally he was condemned to death by hanging. As a last request before his execution, he asked to be brought once more into the presence of the judge who had condemned him. The request was granted and they lead him to the residence of the magistrate, who was just banqueting with some friends. The convicted man declared again his innocence and in the presence of the guests, he pointed to a roasted rooster on the table exclaiming: “My innocence is as certain as the roasted rooster will crow three times, if I should be hung.”
Everybody laughed at him, but nobody dared to touch the rooster. However what seemed impossible, became reality. When the man was to be hung, in that very moment the roasted rooster stood up on the table and began crowing. Nobody doubted any more the innocence of the condemned man. They hurried to the gibbet and saw the poor man with the rope around his neck. But a free knot had avoided his suffocation. Immediately set free the man went away in peace.
Some years later, he returned again to Barcelos and built a monument in praise of St. Tiago and the Holy Virgin.
The Portuguese Myths, stories and Legends
Statue of Adamastor by Júlio Vaz Júnior, Lisbon, Portugal.
Adamastor is a Greek-type mythological character famed by the Portuguese poet Luís de Camões in his epic poem Os Lusíadas as a symbol of the forces of nature Portuguese navigators had to overcome during their discoveries. Camões gave his creation a story as one of the Giants of Greek mythology who had been spurned byThetis, now appearing in the form of a threatening storm cloud to Vasco da Gama and threatening to ruin anyone strong enough to cross the Cape of Torments and sail in the Indian Ocean, which was Adamastor’s domain.
Adamastor represented the dangers Portuguese sailors faced when trying to round the Cape of Torments.
This is the most famous Portuguese legend, still remembered today, inspiring songs, literature and art.
Sebastianism, is part of the Portuguese mythology and culture. It means waiting for a hero that will save Portugal and lead it to the Fifth Empire, known as “national Self”.
Fernando Pessoa also wrote about this hero-to-come in his epic poem The Message supporting his ideas on predictions and myths.
Sebastian was a great Portuguese patriot and hero – the “sleeping King” who would return to help Portugal in its darkest hour, on a misty morning.
Portuguese Legends and Stories
The Miracle of the Roses
One of the most popular Portuguese Queens was Isabel of Aragon (also known as Saint Queen Isabel), beloved wife of King Dinis. She’s the protagonist of this famous legend, called The Miracle of the Roses. She came to Portugal when she was twelve years old to marry the king. She was of a legendary beauty and serenity and enjoyed being helpful towards people in need. She was also very religious, modest and was always willing to protect everyone from misery.
One day, the Queen went out, as she usually did, to give bread to the poor. King Dinis became very suspicious of her daily visits to the village, because a nobleman came to his room and said:
– Forgive me, my Lord, if I dare to speak to you on a subject that makes you worried.
The king looked at him with some pride.
– Say what you intend.
— Lord my King … The Queen, your lovely wife, is wasting your fortune!
– What are you saying? Explain yourself now!
The gentleman bowed and continued:
– My Lord, believe in what I say … The Queen is spending more than you can imagine …
– But how do you know that?
– Oh? It is easy to know, my Lord … Only your good eyes do not want to see the truth. If you allow me …
King bristled up.
– What? Are you mad?
The gentleman bowed his head and said in a voice somewhat uncertain:
– Oh, my Lord and King! I just want to help you … money is lacking…my Lord! Your intervention is needed …
A shout of the king of Portugal cut off his sentence:
– Enough! I know what to do!
He angrily decided to talk to the Queen the next day…
– Where are you going, my Lady?
– To the convent, my Lord!
– And what are you hiding on your lap?
The Queen hesitated before answering:
– These are roses, my Lord! For the convent!
– Roses, my Queen? He became really angry – Roses in Winter? Are you trying to deceive me, my Queen?
Smoothly, Queen Isabel uncovered her lap and said:
– My Lord, the Queen of Portugal doesn’t lie!
And everyone saw beautiful snowy roses falling from her lap, where there should be only bread.
The Aljubarrota Bakeress
Her full name was Brites de Almeida and she was so ugly and so enormous that she looked like a man.
Brites would be twenty years old when she became an orphan. She didn’t worry too much about that fact because it gave her the opportunity to become independent and self-sufficient.
One day she met a Portuguese soldier who fell in love with her and asked her to marry him. But she did it under a condition: a duel and if he won, they could get married. But the soldier almost died and she had to run away and hid in Africa. But after some time, she sailed back to Portugal.
She decided to settle down and started to work as a bakeress.
She took up arms and joined the Portuguese troops, fighting against the Spaniards. The battle was terrible, but the Portuguese were successful.
Back at home, all covered with blood, as she was getting closer to her bakery, Brites had this strange feeling that something was wrong. The door to the bakery’s oven was abnormally closed. Seven foreign soldiers were hidden inside the baker’s oven waiting for the nightfall and she killed them all.
After that episode, leading a numerous number of women, Brites restlessly chased Spanish rebel soldiers all around the county who were hiding in the villages nearby. So she became a symbol of resistance against the invaders.