Life in Plastic Special: The Bishop Fish and the Sea Monk: Toy Cryptids

A little while ago, I was talking with a friend of mine who is currently teaching a Church History class.  I brought up the Bishop Fish, and he was so amazed that he asked me to show him everything I could find about it.  So… I ended up researching this.  And since it also ties into a bunch of toys, well, it’s worth including!

As far as photos go, the toy photography is near the end.  The reproduced artwork is… dun dun dun… historical documentation!  Awesome!

 

The Bishop Fish and the Sea Monk

BishopFishAndSeaMonk-Conradgesner-HistoriaAnimalium
Illustration from The Historia Animalum

The Bishop Fish and Sea Monk are two 15th and 16th-Century European cryptids – a cryptid is a legendary monster that has “confirmed” sightings, as opposed to a creature tied to myth. For example, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Mothman are cryptids, whereas the Manticore, the Hydra, and the Phoenix would be considered mythical creatures. The Bishop Fish arises from a segment of Roman Catholic thought surmising that all the creatures and people on land and in the air should logically have counterparts undersea. And thus, it was only logical that the Gospel could spread to the people under the sea, be they fish, mermaids, or whatever else. Thus, the mentality existed of something like an undersea bishop long before one was sighted. An example of the idea comes from Guillaume du Bartas’s poem, La Sepmaine; ou, Creation du monde:

“Seas have (as well as skies) Sun, Moon, and Stars;
(As well as ayre) Swallows, and Rooks, and Stares;
(As well as earth) Vines, Roses, Nettles, Millions,
Pinks, Gilliflowers, Mushrooms, and many millions
of other Plants lants (more rare and strange than these)
As very fishes living in the Seas.
And also Rams, Calfs, Horses, Hares, and Hogs,
Wolves, Lions, Urchins, Elephants and Dogs,
Yea, Men and Mayds; and (which I more admire)
The mytred Bishop and the cowled Fryer;
Whereof, examples, (but a few years since)
Were shew’n the Norways, and Polonian Prince.”

BishopFish

The first Bishop Fish story comes from 1187, and is descrived in Stowe’s Annals as a fish shaped like a man with a bishop’s mitre’d cap. It was kept by Barlemew de Glanville in the castle of Orfode for six months, ate other fish, and escaped into the sea one night when it was not being watched. It was occasionally brought to the church, but did not make any special gestures.

BishopFish-BookOfDays

Bishop Fish (The Book of Days)

The most famous Bishop Fish was caught in 1433 by fishermen in the Baltic Sea. Because of the odd, pointed appearance of its head, the fishermen assumed that it was indeed an undersea bishop and gave it as tribute to the King of Poland. Soon after, a group of bishops received an audience with the king and got to view the creature. Supposedly, it communicated with holy hand gestures until the bishops were convinced that it was indeed a fellow clergyman, and they thus convinced the king to return the Bishop Fish to the sea. Once released, it purportedly made the sign of the cross before swimming away.

BishopFish-Color

Bishop Fish (Richard Breton, Colorized)

A second story comes from Germany in 1531, where fishermen caught another Bishop Fish off the German coast. The creature refused to eat and died in captivity after three days. A similar story rose up off the British Atlantic later, though there is no consistent date included with this one, and it may just be a retelling of the German story.

BishopFish-GiulliaumeRondele-15554

Bishop Fish (Giulliaume Rondele)

Current theories state that the Bishop Fish may have been a deformed manta ray, as its fins would resemble the billowing “cape” the fish was claimed to have. Some cryptozoologists believe that it was a monkfish (the lophius, not the legendary sea monk). It superficially resembles the Jenny Haniver, a hoax creature often constructed from the dried-out corpse of a skate.

SeaMonk-BookOfDays-1869

Sea Monk (The Book of Days)

The Sea Monk is very similar to the Bishop Fish. In following the same belief, if there were bishops under the sea, there would have to be monks as well. Another was found off the eastern coast of Zealand (the Danish island, not New Zealand) in 1546. The accounts’ descriptions of the Sea Monk was detailed enough to provide a fairly consistent imagery for it, including a “robe” that superficially resembles multiple tendrils.

SeaMonk-JapetusSteenstrup

Sea Monk (Janus Steenstrup, comparison with squid)

Since the 19th Century, scholarship has identified the Sea Monk as most likely being a squid. Janus Steenstrup famously compared traditional illustrations of the Monk with a squid captured and preserved in 1853. Other theories state that it could have been an angel shark, a hooded seal, or the eponymous monkfish.

SeaMonk-MonachusMarinus-Belon-1555

Both creatures have a place in popular culture. The Bishop and monk have been illustrated in numerous zoological guides between the 16th and 19th century, and are studied often in cryptozoological circles, often in comparison to other similar creatures such as Japan’s Umi-Bozu “sea monk.”

Monster in my Pocket

 

In 1992, a rubber figure of the Bishop Fish was produced for the Monster in my Pocket toy line. It resembled a more “monsterized” version of the Bishop Fish’s traditional depiction, and the backstory included with its trading card was mostly accurate, albeit with the additional claim that if you catch a Bishop Fish, it will “protect” you. The line also included a Jenny Haniver, though it did not resemble the Bishop Fish at all.

BishopFish-MonsterInMyPocket-2006Card

In 2006, another Bishop Fish was released in the new, “revived” Monster in my Pocket toy line. Unfortunately, this figure did not resemble the traditional Bishop Fish at all, instead resembling a fat, slovenly mer-man. The information on its trading card was also completely inaccurate, claiming that it was named after the chess piece, lives in the China sea, and causes storms and hurricanes. The 2006 series also included an equally-inaccurate Jenny Haniver.

BishopFish-SeaMonk-DemonsChronicle

In 2002, small figures of both the Sea Monk and Bishop Fish were released in the Demon’s Chronicle line by Yanoman. Demon’s Chronicle is a Japanese line that depicts western mythological creatures, most often angels and demons, and produces figures meant to be used as substitute chess pieces. Both are exact reproductions of their depiction in the 1862 Book of Days, although those are copies of older 16th century artwork. For example, the Bishop Fish’s appearance in the Book of Days resembles Richard Breton’s artwork from 1562. Strangely, both creatures are misnamed in Demon’s Chronicle – the Bishop Fish is labeled as Dagon while the Sea Monk is labeled as the sea serpent Rahab. The reason for this misappropriation is unknown, as other Demon’s Chronicle figures, even obscure ones such as the Succarath, are properly labeled.

And now… THE TOYS!

BishopFish05

BishopFish-Side

BishopFish-Classic

BishopFIsh-2006

SeaMonk

BishopFish-ClassicCompare

BishopFish-NewAndNew

BishopFish-Mimps

BishopFish-All

BishopFish-SeaMonk

Advertisements

7 responses to “Life in Plastic Special: The Bishop Fish and the Sea Monk: Toy Cryptids

  1. This is awesome; fantastic research and it was fascinating to read. The Sea Monk is terrifying…

    Also, I had no idea they had revived MIMP. I definitely missed out!

  2. Ad edge is one of the leading SEO Company located in Delhi, which posses all the qualities to meet up with
    clients aspiration. For example, these services recommend content for
    each page of your website to increase search engine visibility for your website.

    The danger is when you settle for affordable yet low quality services.

  3. Iloved as much as you’ll receive carried out right here. Thee sketch is attractive, your authored subject matter stylish.
    nonetheless, yyou command get bought an nervousness
    over that youu wish be delivering the following.
    unwell unquestionably come further formerly again as exactly the same nearly very
    often inside case you shield this hike.

  4. May I simply just say what a relief to discover an individual who really understands
    what they are talking about on the net. You
    actually understand how to bring an issue to light and make it important.
    More people have to read this and understand this side
    of your story. I was surprised you’re not more popular given that you most certainly have the gift.

  5. Pingback: Life In Plastic: The Zodiac (Part 2) | Nerditis·

  6. Pingback: Life In Plastic: MOTHER HARLOT (SHIN MEGAMI TENSEI) | Nerditis·

  7. Pingback: Life In Plastic: HALLOWEEN SPECIAL: Demon’s Chronicle (AGAIN) | Nerditis·

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s