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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Gargoyles!


I was tidying up my study and came across this article on gargoyles and it was so interesting I thought I would share it. Aren't they pretty!

The gargoyle originated as plumbing. They can be traced back to Ancient Greece, Egypt and Rome when decorated terracotta waterspouts depicting lions, eagles and other creatures were common. Today they are still visible on the Parthenon in Athens and at the ruins of Pompeii. The word "gargoyle" comes from the French gargouille (throat) from which the verb to gargle also derives.

The gargoyle was, however, a rather splashy way to dispose of rainwater and in 1241 King Henry III invented the drainpipe, instructing the Keeper of Works at the Tower of London "to cause all leaden gutters... to be carried down to the ground." Lead drainpipes began appearing in quantity in the Tudor period. At the top of these pipes where the gargoyle had originally sat, there was often an open-topped box known as a rainwater head. In the great houses this was often decorated with a coat of arms. It took until 1724 however for the drainpipe to catch on in cities. Prior to that a Londoner venturing out in a downpour would run the risk of a hundred water spouts cascading onto his head.

It was around 1220 that the gargoyle as decoration really leapt to fame, clinging to the corners and roofs of buildings. Medieval carvers let their imaginations run riot and created fantastical figures, animals, humans, some half and half. Magdalen College Oxford has a collection of hippopotami, wrestlers, a jester, a griffin, a greyhound, a camel and several monsters.


Some gargoyles were intended to ward off evil spirits. The gargoyles on Notre Dame in Paris are said to watch for drowning victims in the Seine and fly down at night to rescue them. I thought this picture was enough to inspire a paranormal romance! Some gargoyles display the physical characteristics of the devil including wings, fangs and clawed feet. A few gargoyles also represent real people, including those on the church at Winchcombe where the gargoyles include the Lord of the Manor.

The Victorian age saw a revival in gargoyles with many churches and country houses from the era bedecked with them, including Knightshayes Court in Devon and Knebworth House in Hertfordshire. Gargoyles also found new homes on the churches and skyscrapers of New York, Washington and Chicago. Washington National Cathedral has 112 gargoyles including one of a hippie, one of a crooked politician and one of Darth Vader!

So which gargoyle is your favourite?




14 comments:

Lesley-Anne McLeod said...

The very first one is my favourite! A sort of 'green man'? My daughter has a collection of gargoyles--a charming one holding aloft a stein!

Laurel Letherby said...

The very first one. Interesting article. I love gargoyles. I have a couple in my office with my knights on horseback. ;-)

Nicola Cornick said...

I like the Green Man gargoyle best as well. I love all the green man symbolism and I think he looks benign. Some of the others will give me nightmares! I do have a soft spot for the startled looking one at the bottom, though!

Kim Colby said...

The green man at the top is almost handsome. I also quite like the little man below him covering his eyes, he looks a like he should be in a Harry Potter movie...lol.

Nicola Cornick said...

The Green Man looks as though he has Victorian side whiskers, I think. Yes, the little one is very Harry Potteresque, Kim. If I was writing a book like that I'd definitely have gargoyle pictures about my desk to inspire me!

Alison said...

I love the skeletal one at the end! I also like ceiling decorations, I think some of my favourites I saw in Ely Cathedral, Knights et al...

Nicola Cornick said...

The Ely decorations sound interesting, Alison. I must look those up. I wondered if the skeleton would get any votes. He/she is marvellously terrifying.

Virginia C said...

Thank you for giving a "shout out" to the Gargoyles! This post is right up there with the one about the "musical chamber pots". Most enjoyable : ) I like the Notre Dame "dragon" the best! The Skeleton with the reaching hand is the scariest : )

NinaP said...

Great post Nicola! I feel sorry for the one-horned chap. He looks so lonely and desperate, as if gazing down upon a freedom he shall never know again.

Nicola Cornick said...

So pleased you like the gargoyles, Virginia. That is what this blog is all about - obscure but fun bits of history (I hope!) The Notre Dame dragon genuinely scares me and the skeleton is pretty grotesque as well IMO (Sorry, Alison, I know it's your favourite!) I agree, Nina, that the desolate chap looks totally desperate. Apparently some of them were designed to warn people about the dangers of falling into evil so maybe he is meant as a Terrible Warning.

Traxy said...

A Darth Vader gargoyle, that's fab! And on a CATHEDRAL as well?! That's just too funny! :D Has to be my favourite. Would be fun to see the hippie and the politician too!

Nicola Cornick said...

I love that gargoyles have developed in a new direction too, Traxy, with more modern images replacing the older ones.

Kate Hardy said...

Gorgeous pics - thanks for sharing. And I hadn't heard that story about the Notre Dame gargoyles before - when we go to Paris in October, I will tell eldest and he will back me in the 'we must climb all the steps to the top of the tower and see the gargoyles for ourselves' campaign :o)

Nicola Cornick said...

Excellent idea, Kate! I should think they are pretty impressive up close as well. Actually I think I might feel spooked to be that close to them!