The Truth About Gargoyles

What Purpose Did They Serve?

When you think of gargoyles you might imagine gothic cathedrals from medieval Europe. And you wouldn’t be wrong. Gargoyles, having often times been built of stone, adorned many medieval structures and perhaps the most famous of all of them is Notre Dame de Paris.

These grotesque creatures also functioned to warn peritioners of the perils of sin

These gargoyles served many functions. Often times these structures were designed as rain spouts, diverting water away from buildings to prevent erosion–but could also serve as ornamental statuary. The  gargoyle often times resembled animals such as lions, human like figures, or chimera (hybrid creatures). These grotesque creatures also functioned to warn peritioners of the perils of sin. By affixing gargoyles on the parapet of religious buildings, the meaning was clear: evil dwelt outside of the church while salvation could be found within.

But, the history of the gargoyle does not begin with medieval Europe. It can, in-fact, be traced back approximately 13,000 years. The oldest gargoyle resembled a crocodile and was discovered in Turkey. Ancient Egyptians, Etruscans, Greeks, and Romans were fond of incorporating gargoyles into the facade of their temples and and public buildings. The most famous example of this would be the Temple of Zeus with its original 102 gargoyles. These grotesque creatures functioned not only to divert water, but also to scare away evil spirits, and purify rain water that was presumably collected.

The tradition of incorporating gargoyles into the facade of buildings continues even to this day. In the 19th century there was a gothic architectural revival that spread across the United States. You can find gargoyles decorating buildings in almost any major city, but perhaps none more than Pittsburgh.

 

So, the next time you see a gargoyle staring down at you . . . don’t be afraid this creature is meant to protect you with it’s beastly good looks.

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