nown for being hideous stone-like monsters, gargoyles are grotesque mythical creatures that sit on top of old cathedrals and churches. Acting as spiritual guardians of the city, a gargoyle’s real function is to divert rainwater away from buildings.
See the fact file below for more information on the gargoyles or alternatively, you can download our 20-page Gargoyle worksheet pack to utilise within the classroom or home environment.
Key Facts & Information
- Derived from the Old French word gargouille which means “throat” or “gullet”, the term gargoyle refers to the sound produced when holding water in the mouth or throat while streaming air from the lungs (origin of gargle).
- It also came from the Greek word gargarizein, meaning “to wash the throat”.
- It came from the French legend “La Gargouille”, whose main character involves a fearsome dragon that threatened the town of Rouen in France for hundreds of years, until Romanus, a local priest, agreed to vanquish the dragon in exchange for Christianity.
- With just the sign of the cross, the beast followed Romanus into the town where it was burned at the stake. Everything turned into ash except for the dragon’s head, so the townspeople mounted it to their church, serving as a watcher of evil and a protector against other dragons.
- The oldest waterspouts were lion heads, found in Egypt and believed to be from the Fifth Dynasty in 2400 B.C. Same design for waterspouts were also recovered from the ancient Greeks and Romans. Dragon gargoyles were also present in China’s Forbidden City and imperial tombs from the Ming Dynasty.
- Gargoyles became more fancy during the latter parts of the Romanesque architectural period – a time of Christian pilgrimage. In the 12th century, animal gargoyles, sculpted as pigs and dogs, served not only as waterspouts but also as symbolic protections for Cathedrale Saint-Lazare d’Autun.
- Their sculptures were popularized during the Gothic era across Europe. French architect Eugene Viollet-le Duc reconstructed the Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral and added many gargoyles and “grotesques”, chimeras with no waterspout, and mounted them high above the cathedral.
- In the 19th century, Pittsburgh also adapted the gothic architecture revival, adding more than 20 iconic gargoyles and hundreds of grotesques to many of its churches, and government buildings.
- During the 1920s to the early 1930s, Art Deco architecture, a modernist movement inspired by ancient traditions, mounted metal gargoyles atop the 1930 Chrysler Building in New York City.
- Gargoyle’s functionality as a waterspout declined over the years; hence, the rise of the grotesques – just plain sculptures of monkeys, devils, dragons, lions, or any other creature.
- According to ancient Greeks, gargoyles, as waterspouts, can purify rainwater and prevent diseases and foul water supplies.
AS MYTHICAL CREATURES
- Inspired by the architectural element, gargoyles are stone-like supernatural creatures by day, known to fend off evil spirits and other harmful creatures.
- At night, they shed and come to life. Some winged gargoyles fly around town to defend the city. As the sun rises, they go back to their posts to serve as stone guardians that adorn cathedrals and churches.
- Gargoyles have six powers and abilities: immortality (invulnerable to the passing of time and to diseases), human form (shapeshift to human-like beings), flight posses wings), camouflage (blend with the inanimate grotesques to surprise intruders), endurance (cannot be wounded at night), and petrification (turns other beings into stone by touch).
- Despite their strengths, gargoyles’ weaknesses include: proximity (cannot fly too far from their posts), and sunlight (turn into stone when exposed to the sun’s rays).
- Their first television appearance was between 1994 and 1997, when Walt Disney Television Animation produced a cartoon series called Gargoyles.