Gargoyles ~ GrotesquesGargoyles ~ Grotesques
Gargoyles are mythological beings. They adorn countless cathedrals
around the world. Early references date back to 600 A.D.
The word 'gargoyles' is derived from an old French word gargouille,
meaning throat. The English words gargle, gurgle and gargoyle are
derived from gargouille.
Some believe that gargoyles - sometimes called grotesques - are
inspired by the skeletal remains of prehistoric dinosaurs and other
Originally a gargoyle was considered a waterspout, directing water
away from a building. Technically an architect calls a waterspout on
a building a gargoyle. If a stone carving does not carry water and
has a face that resembles a creature, it is technically called a
Many people believe that gargoyles were created by medieval
architects and stone carvers to ward off evil in an imperfect world.
France has over 100 cathedrals, most built in the middle ages, with
Notre Dame being the most famous. Churches used awesome visual
images to spread the scriptures, which included gargoyles, stained
glass, and sculpture. Some believe that gargoyles were inspired
directly via a passage in the bible. Others believe that gargoyles
and grotesques do not come from the bible, but are inspired by the
skeletal remains of prehistoric beasts such as dinosaurs and giant
Some people feel that gargoyles are the expression of man's
subconscious fears or, that they may be vestiges of paganism from an
age when god would be heard in trees and river plains.
Churches of Europe carried them further into time; maybe to remind
the masses that "even if god is at hand, evil is never far away -
possibly to act as guardians of their church to keep the terrible
spirits of evil away."
A legend has it that a fierce dragon named La Gargouille lived in
the river Seine near Paris. The fierce dragon devoured ships and
men. The village was saved by St. Romanis, proving the might of
Christianity. After the battle, the creature was set ablaze. Its
body was destroyed but its head and neck survived which was mounted
on a building. This practice spread and La Gargouille perhaps
creating the model for the gargoyles we see today.
Many gargoyles are similar to the legends and figures of the
ancients Celts, such as the Green Man or Jack of the Green - the god
of tree worship. Artists who carved these were inspired by their
Gargoyles can be dragons, men, cats, bats, frogs, serpents, and
Gargoyles are still being carved today, many with a modern theme
such as a whimsical figure pointing a camera down below.
Reference: Encyclopedia Britannica
Gargoyles are mostly grotesque figures. Statues representing
gargoyle-like creatures are popular sales items, particularly in
goth and New Age retail stores.
A similar type of sculpture that does not work as a waterspout and
serves only an ornamental or artistic function is called a chimera,
although these are popularly referred to as gargoyles also.
The term gargoyle is most often applied to medieval work, but
throughout all ages some means of throwing the water off roofs, when
not conveyed in gutters, was adopted.
In Egypt gargoyles ejected the water used in the washing of the
sacred vessels which seems to have been done on the flat roofs of
the temples. In Greek temples, the water from roofs passed through
the mouths of lions whose heads were carved or modelled in the
marble or terra cotta cymatium of the cornice. At Pompeii many terra
cotta gargoyles were found that are modelled in the shape of
A local legend that sprang up around the name of St. Romanus
("Romain") (631 641 A.D.), the former chancellor of the Merovingian
king Clotaire II who was made bishop of Rouen, relates how he
delivered the country around Rouen from a monster called Gargouille,
having had the creature captured by a liberated prisoner. The
gargoyle's grotesque form was said to scare off evil spirits so they
were used for protection. In commemoration of St. Romain the
Archbishops of Rouen were granted the right to set a prisoner free
on the day that the reliquary of the saint was carried in
Gargoyles, or more precisely chimerae, were used as decoration on
19th and early 20th century buildings in cities such as New York
(where the Chrysler Building's stainless steel gargoyles are
celebrated), and Chicago. Gargoyles can be found on many churches
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