Rigby’s Encyclopaedia of the Herring

aka The Herripedia


An entry that possibly should have been filed under C, but which spuriously allows alphabetic completism


In the Dutch Grand Fishery barrels of herring caught after September 14th were branded with a cross – as those caught before St James’ Day (25th July) had a scallop shell brand. The practice was adopted by the Scots and English as they sought to compete with the Dutch.

14th September is the date of the feast commemorating the dedication of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem in 335. It is The Exaltation of the Holy Cross, The Triumph of the Cross, Holy Cross Day, Holy Rood Day.

Emperor Constantine’s mum, St Helena, had found the true cross a few years earlier on a pilgrimage. A third of the wood she found stayed in Jerusalem, a third went to Rome and a third to Constantinople.

Jerusalem’s was temporarily lost in 614 during the Sassanian conquest of the city and around this time a rival Feast of the Cross started, which was celebrated on May 3rd.  Rome clearly had to get its house in order and allocated 14th September to a celebration of the return of the Jerusalem section in 629. May 3rd became a celebration of The Invention of the True Cross (from the Latin inventio meaning discovery).

The Nestorian or Syriac Church celebrates the finding of the Cross on September 13th, the Armenian Apostolic Church fasts from September 10th to 14th and has its feast on 15th, but the Eastern Orthodox Church sticks with 14th for both finding the Cross in 326 and its recovery in 628.

Between the competing feasts, it’s tempting to find some kind of direct line from the barrels of herring to the Brand X of 1960s washing powder adverts. Don’t think I haven’t tried.