n. gar·goyle [gär-"goil] Middle English gargoyl,
from Middle French gargouille; akin to Middle French gargouiller
and from the same root word from which we derive gurgle, gullet,
gully, gulp, gurgitation. Date: 13th century.
A spout usually carved in the shape of a human, animal or demon,
and connected to a gutter for throwing rain water from the roof
of a building; although later examples - particularly in the Gothic
Revival of the 19th century - served as merely decoration and
served no earthly function. Today, they are associated with close
cousins the grotesques, and Green
gargoyle often makes his perch
On a cathedral or a church
Where, mid eclesiastic style
He smiles an early Gothic smile.
As early as the sixth century, Pope Gregory was instructing missionaries
to respect the rituals of pagan worship. Wisely, the Church accepted
these 'heathen' practices by incorporating them into the rituals
of the Church (and not for nothing did Christmas later quietly
replace the pagan Winter Solstice celebration.)
the 12th century, however, the venerable St. Bernard of Clairvaux
was ranting against the origins of the weird and irreverent carvings
in his cloister. This was at a moment of time when The
Catholic Church was now entrenched throughout the known world:
are these fantastic monsters doing in the cloisters under the
very eyes of the brothers as they read? What is the meaning
of these unclean monkeys, strange savage lions and monsters?
To what purpose are here placed these creatures, half beast,
Bernard, the grand master of organization who established the
austere Cisterian order, was a stickler for dogma : What did monsters
have to do with Christ dying for our sins? Why did stonecarvers
continue to insist on this bizarre decoration? In his diatribe
he finally posed the eternal question of administers everywhere:
...and what are they costing me?
century later, gargoyles finally became the natural progeny of
the grotesques St. Bernard railed against.
only did they not go away, but those pagan grotesques were now
serving as a primitive form of machinery: hollowed out then lined
with lead, they were dubbed 'gargoyles' for the noise made as
they violently spit rain water away from ledges and outcroppings.
Where is it? No one knows for sure, but an architectural historian
might find it sculking on a relatively recent Neo-Gothic building.
During the Victorian era, the Gothic
Revival was a phenomenon in England that saw the reemergence
of gables, parapets and - yes, real working gargoyles - that graced
commercial stone buildings of the 19th century. It truly was the
gargoyle's last hurrah, but the mania for the little beasties
never really disappeared.
National Cathedral, completed in the late 20th century,
have featured them; and the Cathedral
of St. John the Divine in New York which has yet to
be completed. There's hope for yet another revival.
then, gargoyles and grotesques (wherever they have managed to
survive) continue to fire our imaginations as they watch over
us in cities throughout the world.
it turns out, it may be our turn to watch over them.