Welcome to the first #MondayTopic post! Because it’s the season of October and all things spooky, we’re starting off with the mysterious gargoyles.
What are these strange creations carved out of stone? During my time living in Italy, I often came across them in the old part of town we lived nearby, and during holiday trips across Europe. I found them fascinating and creepy, as they peered down from their high perches at the pedestrians milling below. And during rain storms, they made a non-stop gurgling noise, spitting out water. Why are they there? Did they ever have a purpose? Or is their goal simply to creep people out? Today, we’ll take a look at the purpose, history, and legend of these stone beasties.
It turns out that, originally, gargoyles served a practical purpose, and that purpose set them apart from statues, grotesques, and other such stone objects that were merely for decoration.
Gargoyles were built to be a type of gutter system for structures. They diverted the rain water as it hit the roof, spewing it away from the walls to help preserve the structure’s foundation and mortar. It wasn’t until later on that they became more ornamental than useful on buildings, and acted as a ward against evil on churches. They took the shapes of animals, chimeras, demons, and even humans. Rain water is channeled into a trough through their backs, where it then runs down and is shot out the gargoyle’s mouth, and most likely onto an oblivious pedestrian.
Europe wasn’t the only place to have these little stone critters, though they probably didn’t have the same ward against evil meaning. Gargoyles in the shapes of lion heads are lined along the Temple of Zeus in Greece, and other lion gargoyles have been found in Egypt. Apparently, they’ve been quite the craze for some time!
But where did the name “gargoyle” come from? I did a little digging. It’s believed they were named after a dragon-slaying legend, the French legend of “La Gargouille,” which goes as follows:
An evil dragon once terrorized the town of Rouen. For centuries it swallowed up their ships and flooded the town, until a priest named Romanus arrived on the scene. He vanquished the beast, taming it with the sign of the cross and leading it to a mound of wood where he fastened it to a stake. He then set the wood on fire. As the dragon’s body burned and turned to ash, the head, however, would not burn but remained perfectly whole. So Romanus cut off the head, and, perhaps not sure what else to do with it, affixed it to the town’s church. From that day on, the dragon head became a ward against evil, and a warning to other dragons…
Don’t you love a good origin story?
Today, when you ask someone to draw a gargoyle, they’re most likely going to picture the kind with horns and wings, like those from the Humpback of Notre Dame movie. But these stone creatures come in all shapes and species. In fact, the gargoyles you see on Notre Dame cathedral today were part of a restoration project, and are not true Medieval gargoyles. Dragons and chimera shapes are common, as well as gargoyles that were meant to be comical (yes, they had a sense of humor back then!), but there are also faces based on people who once lived, usually someone of importance to that area, like the photo below:
Gargoyle is from the French word gargouille for “throat,” and this is where we get the words “gargle, gurgle, gully, gutter and gulp” from. (say that three-times fast!)
As rain water runs down and through the gargoyle, exiting its mouth in a constant flow, it makes a burbling, gurgling noise. So next time you hear something gurgling, look up—there may be a gargoyle watching you.
Here are links to some modern and crazy gargoyles:
The Darth Vader gargoyle in Washington D.C: https://cathedral.org/what-to-see/exterior/vader/
The Alien gargoyle on the ancient Paisley Abbey: http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-glasgow-west-23810979
Which type of gargoyle is your favorite: dragon, chimera, or human? Are there any gargoyles in your area? Do you find them creepy or interesting?
Also be sure and subscribe to this blog’s email list so you can get in on sneak peeks, special giveaways, and more from me!
© 2017-to present author E.E. Rawls and RawlsE.wordpress.com
(ads are by WordPress, not me)