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Things You May Not Know About The Fabled Gargoyles

Updated on March 2, 2012

Watching Gargoyle

gargoyle By DandCl
gargoyle By DandCl

The Fabled Gargoyles

Gargoyles, from the medieval day to the present were created to serve a primary function of water diversion, that is, when they were not busy scaring off evil spirits. Traditionally, they are a spout, specifically designed to convey any water running off the roof, away from the building but with their unconventional appearance it is easy to believe that they come alive at night and return to their home when the sun comes up in the morning.

Gargoyles rarely showed any variation away from being a lion's head in ancient Egyptian architecture. They were carved in the terracotta, marble or cornice of Greek temples upon being built. The Temple of Zeus is a fabulous example, still boasting 39 of the original 102 gargoyles on the building.

Gargoyles and chimeras were commonly found on medieval cathedrals and although many are of a grotesque feature, gargoyle has become the default name for all such figures. Originally, a sculpture that was purely ornamental was called a grotesque figure and although people in the architect field usually know the difference between the two, all sculptures are more commonly now referred to as gargoyles. When design started to move away from the lion's head and turn more artistic, they became depicted as monks, animals, people and other mythological creatures.

Once more and more buildings employed downpipes from the guttering at the roof level, few gargoyles were constructed in new establishments and became purely ornamental.

Gargoyles Of Notre Dame

Spiritual And Mythical Connections

Superstition and religion were important to the medieval people. They looked to God or other gods to not only find answers but to seek help and protection. Many believed that the gargoyles could ward off creatures and unwanted spirits. There was thought that they would come alive at night and fly around the villages and towns to protect people while they were sleeping.

Gargoyles placed on churches could act as a reminder that evil was everywhere in the surroundings but you would be safe in the sanctuary inside. You could come inside, forget about the world outside and pray for your soul to be saved from the horrible beasts of hell, represented by the gargoyles.

Since literacy was uncommon, images were the easiest representation of ideas. Gargoyles could scare people to come to church as a reminder of the end of days.


Gargoyle By dieburg401
Gargoyle By dieburg401

Gargoyle Forms

In medieval times, many creatures represented mystical powers. The Gargoyle creation began with the lion because it was the most common non-native animal. Due to its golden mane, it was often linked to the sun, bearing a solar wreath. These were common gargoyles with ancient Greeks and were often used on houses in Pompeii, which is now a partially buried or ruined Roman city. Lions became a symbol of pride during the medieval periods which was part of the seven deadly sins. It is interesting to note that although lions are popular gargoyles other cats were not, due to their association with Satanism and their dark nature.

Scary Church Gargoyles

The wolf was a feared but extremely respected creature during medieval times. They could cooperate and live with a pack, offering the metaphor of the leader of the pack. They became a popular gargoyle linked to priests that spent their life fighting evil spirits from the common folk. On the deadly sin side, the wolf represented greed.

Eagles were used as gargoyles due to their believed ability and power to slay a dragon. Their acute eyesight earned them respect as well as their ability to renew themselves just by looking into the sun.

Since serpents were always depicted as a struggle between good and evil, snakes came to be used as gargoyles. The snake also represented the deadly sin of envy. They were believed to be immortal because of their molting process to shed their skin.

In medieval times, the goats became used as a gargoyle with two different representations. One perspective offered that goats were equated with Christ because of their remarkable ability to climb up very steep slopes in search of food. However, it was also believed to be a symbol of lust and often linked to Satan.

Gargoyle monkeys were a representation of nature going wrong and what happened to humans. Even though the monkey is highly intelligent, at the time, they were believed to be incredibly stupid and were a representation of sloth for the seven deadly sins.

The most popular native animal made into a gargoyle was a dog. They were associated with being loyal, intelligent, faithful and made wonderful guardians. However, their hunger tenancies to steal food represented that even they could be influenced by the Devil.

Chimeras were usually face carvings or mixes of various animal parts that blended to make a new creation. Gryphons, mermaids, centaurs and harpies were popular gargoyles and were used to warn anyone who underestimated the devil.

Gargoyle Directing Water

Gargoyle By gelatog
Gargoyle By gelatog

The Purpose Of A Gargoyle

Early gargoyles played an important role in building preservation. Rainwater flowing down masonry walls erodes the mortar found between the stone blocks. Gargoyles were used to divide the water flow off the roof to minimize damage. Traditionally, a trough cut in the gargoyle, collects the water and shoots it through the exit in its mouth. The more elongated the gargoyle design, the further away from the building the water ends up.

Although they do not serve the same purpose today, gargoyles still offer representation and decoration for buildings all over the world. As well as garden ornaments, statuary, and art.

Gargoyles In Disney

One of Disneys animated feature films, Hunchback of Notre Dame, introduced three talking gargoyle companions for Quasimodo. But another hit Disney T.V. show simply named Gargoyles, brought a whole slew of gargoyle characters. They came alive when the sun went down and turned back to stone during the day. These gargoyles had little to do with water diversion, being actual monsters rather than man made structures, however, in the T.V. show they charged themselves with the purpose of protecting their castle home which they shared with the humans.


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    • Gal Thang profile image

      Gal Thang 3 years ago

      I want my own, but then I am a little Darkling:)

    • profile image

      Debbie 6 years ago

      This is a great hub -- I love the gargoyl video!