Saturday, August 6, 2011

The Bishop Fish - fact or weird fiction?

[Image: Brenda Rosen; The Mythical Creatures Bible]

The Bishop Fish is a delightfully random mythological beast - and to be frankly honest if I saw it whilst snorkelling, I'd probably have a heart attack. These beasties are seriously odd.

According to my well thumbed copy of "The Mythical Creatures Bible" by Brenda Rosen (pg143), the Bishop fish (also known as the 'Sea Monk' or 'Sea Bishop', looks like an enormous fish, but the tail fins resemble legs wearing fisherman's boots and the pectoral fins are similar to clawed fingers. The head of the bishop fish is cone shaped just like a Bishops Mitre (hat). The creature was first pictured in a work by naturalist Konrad von Gesner, entitled "Historia Animalium" (1551-1558). This work depicted the history of animals, and their place in art, literature and history. He based a lot of it on folklore and mythology. So in amongst the rhinoceros and other real life creatures there are Unicorns and of course the Bishop fish.There was extreme religious tension at the time Historiae animalium came out. Pope Paul IV felt that Gesner's religious convictions (he was Protestant) contaminated any literary truth or merit of the book and thus it was added to the Catholic Church's list of prohibited texts!

Anyway, I digress! According to legend, a Bishop fish was caught of the coast of Poland and shown to the King of who wished to keep it. The creature was kept alive and when shown to a group of bishops, the fish pleaded to be released with it's claw-like hands. The bishops all agreed and the creature then made the sign of the cross and disappeared into the sea. [Rosen, B. The mythical Creatures bible, 2010, pg 143]

[photo courtesy: Wikipedia;]

According to Wiki, another Bishop fish was caught in 1531 off the coast of Germany. This one apparently refused to eat and died after three days.
Then in 1546, one was apparently caught off the Danish Island of Zealand, and was described as looking like a 'monk' (hence the other name for the Bishop fish, the Sea Monk.)

Over the years there seems to have been speculation about what exactly the Sea Monk/Bishop fish actually was. Danish Zoologist Japetus Steenstrup (1850's) claimed the Bishop fish was most likely a giant squid, and he published drawings illustrating the likeness.

[photo courtesy: Wikipedia, Japetus Steenstrup].

Current discussion speculates that the Bishop Fish was really an angel shark or a disfigured walrus or hooded seal.

Could this be a Bishop fish? Freaky isn't it?!

The fact is, that there are so many fish in the ocean, the Bishop fish legend could be drawn from anyone of them.  I always wonder where the actual myth comes from, and in this case I seriously doubt any deep sea fish could stay alive out of deep water, plead for its freedom or make the sign of the cross. Not without the use of some psychodelic drugs anyway.

 None the less, the Bishop fish is a pretty cool cryptid, and although I don't intend on using one in my writing, I thought it definitely worth sharing!

No comments:

Post a Comment