Gargoyles are architectural structures in the form of carved statues. Usually made of stone, protruding from buildings and monuments of historical interest. Built with a channel of some type formed into them. Tis is along the top and through the head to divert rain water from the building. Thus protecting the mortar joints and masonry from erosion.
Gargoyles protrude outward This is to send the water spouting away from the face of the building. usually from the mouth of the mythical creature that the gargoyle represents.
The famous Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris has many gargoyles. All seen protruding from the roof area. or at least it did have before fire ravaged it in 2019.
The medieval churches are the main residences of these stone artefacts. Much work went into these buildings. In such forms as their stone carvings. The elaborate columns, pillars and lintels. The intricate shapes and aesthetics of the buildings are something of an appreciation. As are the wooden structures. Such as vaulted ceilings ad internal ornate corbels. Stone corbels that the timber roof structure sat upon. The vaulted ceilings lay open and engineered to carry the heavy load and stresses. They also had to look pleasing to the eye. So also and incorporated much craftsmanship in their making and appearance. Take a look up inside any church and you’ll see the results.
Gargoyles have many variations. A lion’s head with its mouth open was a common feature. This varied from cathedral to cathedral and many took on a distorted form. Later gargoyles became a mix match of many creatures and forms. In medieval times their appearances morphed into many forms. They always seemed to take on a sinister or terrifying look.
Another form of gargoyle is the chimera. These were not for diverting water from the building but for ornamental purposes. Refered to as grotesques but classed as gargoyles due to certain similarities.
The true form of a chimera comes from the description in Greek mythology as follows:
· Chimera: a monster from Greek mythology that is fire breathing, has a lions head, a goats body and a snakes tale.
In ancient Greek mythology, the chimera are feared as a bad omen when sighted. The term “chimera” came to symbolise any mythical creature with two or more mixed body parts. Taken from various animals.
Gargoyles quite often lent themselves to the chimera or variations of that form.
· Gargoyles were sometimes carved in the image of mixed animals (chimeras). Sometimes carved as half human and half animal.
Gargoyles were not only used for diverting water away from building. They also had another purpose. Some say to ward off evil.
It’s strange to think that the image of such a grotesque figure could do this. When the figure itself seems to er on the side of evil. With its unusual shape and contortions. It’s unnatural hybrid configuration and it’s medieval demonic looks that some gargoyles portrayed. With so many despotic looking stone statuettes staring down at the congregation. From high above their heads, it’s a wonder they didn’t refuse to enter the churches of that era.
The church hierarchy of the time sort various ways to coheres their flock into repenting. The church, as a building, offered spiritual security to the people of the middle ages. For those that was willing to seek it. Outside the church was the temptation of all the evil and sin. The church represented a sanctuary to the masses, a safe haven.
The gargoyles were to remind them of the evil in the outside world. The message was that it was better to be inside the sanctuary of the church. Rather than on the inside, where temptation, sin and wickedness lies. A form of converting the pagans to Christianity.
This was a ploy adopted by the Christian church in medieval times. One that put fear into the hearts of the people in the hope of them attending church en-mass.
Gargoyles go back long before Christianity though.
In Olympus, in ancient Greece, The Temple of Zeus has many lion shaped water spouts. The ancient Egyptians build and carved many gargoyles in the form of lions.
The Temple of Zeus was built between 470 BC – 456 BC. Built of limestone with much marble used also to incorporate the finer finishes. Many sculptures were of marble, including its 102 lion – headed gargoyles.
The ancient Egyptians preferred the lion form also, although they constructed other forms. Such were as hooded snakes and demon types. The Egyptian gargoyles were to keep their temples safe from Seth, a god of chaos. They were not for diverting rainwater from the buildings. This would have been less important in a desert climate.
The more modern gargoyles, seen on our churches and such, came into being round about the 12th century AD.
The noise of water rushing through the gargoyle resembles a gargling sound.
The word gargoyle is from the French word gargouille, which means throat.
Putting the two together we get the image of someone with their head thrown back. Their mouth represents the shape of a funnel. And blowing air from their lungs through a liquid at the back of their throat, to ease a sore throat usually. What they are doing is gargling. Hence the word gargoyle.