Saturday, 26 October 2013

A Lot of Cock in Portugal

You see it everywhere; in every tourist shop on ceramics and tea-towels; on tee-shirts and aprons; on pendants, hair-slides and key-fobs, and as stand-alone ornaments. You'd be amazed at the number of different ways the Portuguese have found to market the Cock of Barcelos (O Galo de Barcelos).

It has its origins in a Catholic 'miracle' - one of many that abound in this area of Europe from a time before the growth in science and education made miracles, miracle-workers and prophets obsolete in most of the civilised world. The story is normally set in the 17th century and usually involved a young man on a pilgrimage from Galicia in Spain to Santiago de Compostela in Portugal who happened to pass through Barcelos in North-Western Portugal, where he was accused of the theft of some silver from a rich man in the town, arrested, tried and condemned to be hanged.

On the day of his execution he pleaded with the hangman to be allowed to speak to the judge who had condemned him. He was taken to the judge's house where the judge was about to entertain guests to dinner, the centrepiece of which was a roasted cockerell. The judge agreed to speak to the man but refused to reprieve him, whereupon the devout pilgrim swore that the cockerel would crow as he was being hanged to show he was innocent. How he managed to identify the roast fowl as male is not stated and would be a minor miracle in itself.

The young man was then taken to the gallows only for the roast cockerell to leap from the plate and crow, whereupon the judge ran to the gallows to reprieved the innocent man only to discover that the hanging had failed due to a faulty knot. Curiously, whichever underling sub-deity was in charge of the cockerell miracle they had not had the full confidence of whoever was running the whole thing and another miracle had had to be performed just incase the cockerell one failed to work. It always pays to have a back-up plan even when you can override the natural order at will it would seem.

Anyway, in the best fairy-tale tradition, they all lived happily ever after. In fact, the legend has the young man returning to Barcelos some years later as an artist and sculpture to sculpt the Crucifix of the Lord of the Rooster to thank the Virgin Mary, who apparently organised the whole thing, thus ensuring a regular supply of visitors to the church eager to see the work of this saintly artist and make generous donations to the church in which it was housed.

Now, if you're prepared to believe that a roast chicken can come back to life and crow you'll have no problem believing that a hangman would take a condemned man to chat with the judge before hanging him; that a judge would interrupt a banquet with friends to listen to him; that this audience would take place in front of the said judge's friends, and that the assembled dinner guests and the judge would neglect to eat the centrepiece of the dinner leaving it intact and ready to spring back to life, you'll probably have no difficulty believing this tale.

Although a number of devout Portuguese seem to have difficulty believing parts of it as it exists in several different equally implausible versions:
  • In one, the Galician was a guest of the rich man whose silver was stolen.
  • In another he was falsely accused by the owner of an inn in which he was lodging.
  • In a third, it was a father and son on a pilgrimage when the son was falsely accused. It was the father who called upon the rooster to crow.
  • In a fourth, the judge is served the roast cock during the trial (as they do) and the trial is halted when the cock crows to order.
  • And in yet another, the young man is not identified as travelling from Galicia.

One wonders what other miracles were dreamed up by local Catholic myth-makers before the supply of miracles, miracle-workers and prophets dried up. Noticeably, they still seem to be doing the same in some parts of the world, as we saw with the phoney Mother Theresa miracles. (See here and here)

Curiously, and against the trend, the number of miracles attributed to recent Popes seems to have increased at around the time they began to be accused of complicity in covering up stories of systematic child abuse by paedophile clerics. Of course, being declared a saint and miracle-worker by an inerrant Pope means that accusations of criminal conspiracy must be false because genuine saints wouldn't do that sort of thing.





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