Gargoyle or Grotesque

Decorative designs made from stone surrounding spouts used to drain water from buildings

In Gothic architecture, a gargoyle is a carved or formed grotesque: 6–8  with a spout designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of a building, thereby preventing it from running down masonry walls and eroding the mortar between.

Architects often used multiple gargoyles on a building to divide the flow of rainwater off the roof to minimize potential damage from rainstorms. A trough is cut in the back of the gargoyle and rainwater typically exits through the open mouth.

Gargoyles are usually elongated fantastical animals because their length determines how far water is directed from the wall. When Gothic flying buttresses were used, aqueducts were sometimes cut into the buttress to divert water over the aisle walls.

The term originates from the French gargouille which in English means “throat” or “gullet”, and similar words derived from the root gar, “to swallow”, which represented the gurgling sound of water.

When not constructed as a waterspout and only serving an ornamental or artistic function, the technical term for such a sculpture is a grotesque, chimera, or boss. Just as with bosses and chimeras, gargoyles are said to protect what they guard, such as a church, from any evil or harmful spirits.

The Temple of Zeus at Olympia was an ancient Greek temple in Olympia, Greece, dedicated to the god Zeus. Originally, it had 102 gargoyles or spouts, but due to the heavyweight (they were crafted from marble), many snapped off and had to be replaced.

What are these fantastic monsters doing in the cloisters before the eyes of the brothers as they read? What is the meaning of these unclean monkeys, these strange, savage lions and monsters? To what purpose are here placed these creatures, half beast, half man or these spotted tigers? I see several bodies with one head and several heads with one body. Here is a quadruped with a serpent’s head; there a fish with a quadruped’s head; then again an animal: half horse, half goat… Surely, if we do not blush for such absurdities, we should at least regret what we have spent on them.

 St. Bernard of Clairvaux[1] -speaking out against gargoyles carved on the walls of his monastery’s cloister

Sometimes the use of the gargoyles illustrated pagan beliefs to reflect the unique cultural history of the community the cathedral is part of. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Etruscans, and Romans all used animal-shaped waterspouts. Human qualities were sometimes ascribed to specific animals—that is, the animals were anthropomorphized[2].

Gargoyles in the movies

In “I, Frankenstein” (2014), humans were turning into Gargoyles, and don’t forget the ones on the rooftop of “Ghostbusters” (1984) coming to life. In “Rise of the Gargoyles” (2009) they’ve been watching humanity for a long time and just waiting to pick their moment, and in the 1972 made-for-TV movie “Gargoyles” an anthropologist/paleontologist and his daughter, while traveling through the southwestern U.S., stumble upon a colony of living, breathing gargoyles.

Gargoyles in comics

The first Gargoyle, Yuri Topalov, appears in The Incredible Hulk #1 (May 1962) and was created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby. As the first Gargoyle, Yuri Topolov was a superhuman genius. Even with or without his powers, he still knows numerous sciences and is well-versed in mechanical theory. The second Gargoyle, Isaac Christians, is a human/demon hybrid and a member of the Defenders. He was created by writer J. M. DeMatteis and artist Don Perlin. During his long run on The Defenders, Gargoyle also was the co-star of Marvel Team-Up #119, written by his co-creator DeMatteis.

  1. Bernard of Clairvaux, (1090 – August 20, 1153), venerated as Saint Bernard, was an abbot, mystic, co-founder of the Knights Templars, and a major leader in the reformation of the Benedictine Order through the nascent Cistercian Order. He was sent to found Clairvaux Abbey at an isolated clearing in a glen known as the Val d’Absinthe, about 9.3 miles southeast of Bar-sur-Aube. In the year 1128, Bernard attended the Council of Troyes, at which he traced the outlines of the Rule of the Knights Templar, which soon became an ideal of Christian nobility.
  2. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human traits, emotions, or intentions to non-human entities. It is considered to be an innate tendency of human psychology. Personification is the related attribution of human form and characteristics to abstract concepts such as nations, emotions, and natural forces, such as seasons and weather. Both have ancient roots as storytelling and artistic devices, and most cultures have traditional fables with anthropomorphized animals as characters. People have also routinely attributed human emotions and behavioral traits to wild as well as domesticated animals.



Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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