Sunday, December 09, 2007

All Hail the Sacred Cod of Massachusetts

I was somewhat amazed that I didn’t have someone guess the identity of the sacred fish I served up as my wordless entry last week. The identity of the fish is something I have shared with students over the years once we begin our discussion regarding the 13 colonies. In the past students have identified three colonial regions being the New England, Middle, and Southern colonies. We examine each region and discuss how the natural environment played a part in their early economies, and this is where the fish comes in.

This week’s wordless image is known as The Sacred Cod of Massachusetts and hangs in their State House. There is much pomp and circumstance regarding the sacred fish. It hangs above the entrance to the room with legislators meet, and it can be seen clearly from the visitors’ gallery. The Speaker of the House faces the cod as he address the body of legislators during their law-making sessions. The fish is always headed in the direction of whichever side of the aisle has the most members and is therefore in power.

The current fish was placed in the State House in response to a suggestion by John Rowe on March 17, 1784. When the lawmaking body moved to a new State House bulding in 1798 the fish made the move as well. Even though the cod has had a place of importance in the State House I find it interesting that the lawmaking body didn’t vote until 1974 to name the cod as Massachusetts’ state fish.

Why a cod? The fish symbolizes how important cod fishing was to the early settlers and later citizens of Massachusetts. It is considered to be an ancient symbol of prosperity for the people of the state.

The five foot long cod that currently hangs in the State House is carved from pine and is the third one known to exist. The first sacred cod was destroyed in a fire in 1747, the second during the Revolutionary War.

In a story that comes straight out of the movie Animal House the Sacred Cod was actually stolen by some staff members of the Harvard Lampoon in 1933. The missing cod sparked a statewide search for the sacred fish that is hilariously recounted here.


The Tour Marm said...

Close, but no cigar! The haddock is in the Atlantic cod family - but not sacred!

Actually the only fish I tend to see on New England menus is scrod!

Great post!

EHT said...

Either way....I'm not particularly fond of fish.

I wonder, however, if the General Assembly of Georgia would ever put up a huge peach, peanut, or even a pine tree up and call it sacred?