Upon visiting the catacombs of St. Callistus in Rome, one sees the substitution of fish for wine in scenes depicting the last supper. How did fish come to substitute for communion wine in these early artifacts?
Before Christianity became the state religion of Rome, they were considered (by the pagans) to be a radical fringe element who were brainwashed enough to die for their faith (imagine that); so, they were a persecuted minority. Early Christianity was an underground religion. In order to find each other, they etched a fish on the wall outside their homes or meeting places, so that traveling Christians who knew the secret code could find them.
The fish symbol comes from the Greek word for fish ΊXΘΫΣ which is was acronym for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior (in Greek)
During medieval times, when Europeans spoke of fish what they really meant was codfish. It was so common, they typically referred to it as simply “fish”. It was a critical provision in The Age of Exploration (including the voyages of Christopher Columbus.) In those days, dried salted Cod was the only source of protein that would not rot on long oversees voyages.
Cod was the New England Gold just like Tobacco was Virginia Gold. An early form of the Golden Triangle Trade was ships sailing from Bristol to Portugal to pick up salt then sailing to Newfoundland for Cod then back to Portugal with shiploads of dried salted cod to buy cargos of wine, olive oil, and more salt. The ships transporting the dried salted cod were called “sack ships”.
The origin of this name is uncertain. The preferred explanation is that these ships were also used in the Spanish Sherry trade, and sherry was commonly called “sack” which is almost certainly derived from “vino de sacca” or “wine for export” (specifically white wine from Spain and the Canaries). (By the way we now have a full line of the Gonzalez Byass Sherrys, including the types typically enjoyed with Tapas in Spain)
The marketing success of cod and its relatives was such a given that many false cods popped up as well. What we, in Hawaii, know as Butterfish is a perfect example. It is also sold as Black Cod; however, it’s not really a Cod but rather Sablefish (Anoplopoma Fimbria)
Codfish is yummy in all its forms. A little butterfish and a glass of Cristina Oloroso Abocado Sherry, and I’m good to go. Cheers!
Certified Sommelier, General Manager, President Liane was born and raised in Honolulu, Hawaii. She graduated from the Kamehameha Schools in 1977, and worked in the bookkeeping department of Villa Roma, a women’s retail clothing store owned by her mother Audrey Fu, before flying off to college in New York City. She was a physics major at New York University (NYU). In her first semester, she attended a concert that was interpreted for the deaf. She became fascinated by the idea of communication through movement which for her was kind of like hula on steroids.