Nursery Rhymes

Gargoyles

Medieval life and Times

Definition and Origin of Gargoyles and Grotesques
Gargoyles came into gothic architecture in the early 13th century and are defined as "a waterspout, projecting from an upper part of a building or a roof gutter to throw water clear of walls or foundations." The origins of the word 'gargoyle' are derived from the old French word 'gargouille' meaning throat. In Architectural terms only the creature serving as actual water spout is called a Gargoyle, otherwise is it known as a Grotesque. A grotesque may function solely as decoration.

Description of Gargoyles - What do Gargoyles represent?
Gargoyles were usually carved in the form of a grotesque face, figure or frightening creature projecting from a roof gutter. Gargoyles were painted and some were even gilded. Gargoyles might depicted any number of grotesque images including:

  • Ugly human faces

  • Animals
  • Mythical creatures
  • Imaginary creatures
  • Gargoyles combining several animals are also referred to as chimeras

The materials used for the earliest Gargoyles were made of wood or even terracotta but early Medieval Gothic gargoyles were made of stone. Later gargoyles, especially in churches, were predominantly limestone and marble, although metals such as lead were also used in fashioning some gargoyles. Stone gargoyles were carved on the ground and then put into place when the building was almost at the point of completion.

Stone Gargoyles in Medieval Architecture
Gargoyles are a fascinating element of Medieval Architecture. These frightening, grotesque sculptures are most often associated with Medieval Churches and Cathedrals but they were also used to great effect in English Gothic castles. Gargoyles are frightening and intimidating sculptures - perfect for the likes of great lords who built elaborate fortresses and castles in order to crush and intimidate the indigenous population. However, whilst gargoyles were included in the construction of many medieval buildings, they seem to be most prevalent on churches.

What is the purpose of Gargoyles?
What is the purpose of Gargoyles? The first is a practical purpose - gargoyles provided a method of drainage which protected the stones and the mortar of churches, cathedrals and castles from erosion. The number of Gargoyles added to buildings were numerous because dividing the flow of water minimized potential water damage.  The second purpose of gargoyles was as 'guardians' of the buildings in the form of abstract symbols designed to represent, and to ward off evil.

What do Gargoyles represent?
What do Gargoyles represent? Gargoyles all have a common theme, they are carved with big wide-open mouths. Whilst this was a practical, functional and necessary requirement of gargoyles creatures and images with mouths wide open are symbolic of devouring giants. And lets be honest, how could Medieval stone masons make anything look beautiful when it has to be displayed with a big wide-open mouth!

Gargoyles History - Church Gargoyles; a representation of hell?
Gargoyles History dates back to antiquity. Gargoyles can be found in Ancient Egyptian, Ancient Roman and Ancient Greek architecture although they are most commonly associated with Medieval Gothic architecture. Ancient history, myths, legends and pagan religions abound with stories of frightening and fantastic creatures. Creatures that fired the imagination. Creatures you would only ever meet in your worst nightmares. Perhaps the Medieval church wanted to convey a terrifying impression of hell and enforce that there was safety and sanctity inside the church. The devil would be a most inappropriate, and totally unorthodox, image to allow on a church - fantastic gargoyles, would, however have a similar, terrifying psychological effect. Stone masons had free choice of their gargoyles should depict or look like. It is an interesting fact that there is no two gargoyles which are exactly the same!

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