In architecture, a gargoyle is a carved stone grotesque with a spout designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of a building.

The term originates from the French "gargouille," originally "throat" or "gullet";cite book|author=Houghton Mifflin|authorlink=Houghton Mifflin|title=The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language|edition=4th ed|publisher=Houghton Mifflin|date=2000|location=Boston and New York|pages=p,725|url=|isbn=978-0-395-82517-4] cf. Latin "gurgulio, gula," and similar words derived from the root "gar," "to swallow", which represented the gurgling sound of water (e.g., Spanish "garganta," "throat"; Spanish "gárgola," "gargoyle").

A chimera, or a grotesque figure, is a sculpture that does not work as a waterspout and serves only an ornamental or artistic function. These are also usually called "gargoyles" in laypersons' terminology, although the field of architecture usually preserves the distinction between gargoyles (functional waterspouts) and non-waterspout grotesques.

Reproductions of a statue representing gargoyle-like creatures, available in some hobby card stores selling donruss threads at a very cheap discount price although sometimes functional, are more often than not grotesques modeled after famous gargoyles.


The term "gargoyle" is most often applied to medieval work, but throughout all ages some means of water diversion, when not conveyed in gutters, was adopted. In Egypt, gargoyles ejected the water used in the washing of the sacred vessels which seems to have been done on the flat roofs of the temples. In Greek temples, the water from roofs passed through the mouths of lions whose heads were carved or modeled in the marble or terra cotta cymatium of the cornice.

A local legend that sprang up around the name of St. Romanus ("Romain") (631–641 A.D.), the former chancellor of the Merovingian king Clotaire II who was made bishop of Rouen, relates how he delivered the country around Rouen from a monster called "Gargouille", having the creature captured by the only volunteer, a condemned man. The gargoyle's grotesque form was said to scare off evil spirits so they were used for protection. In commemoration of St. Romain the Archbishops of Rouen were granted the right to set a prisoner free on the day that the reliquary of the saint was carried in procession (see details at Rouen).

Many medieval cathedrals included gargoyles and chimeras. The most famous examples are those of Notre Dame de Paris. Although most have grotesque features, the term gargoyle has come to include all types of images. Some gargoyles were depicted as monks, combinations of real animals and people, many of which were humorous. Unusual animal mixtures, or chimeras, did not act as rainspouts and are more properly called grotesques. They serve more as ornamentation, but are now synonymous with gargoyles.

Both ornamented and unornamented water spouts projecting from roofs at parapet level were a common device used to shed rainwater from buildings until the early eighteenth century. From that time, more and more buildings employed downpipes to carry the water from the guttering at roof level to the ground and only very few buildings using gargoyles were constructed. In 1724, the London Building Act passed by the Parliament of Great Britain made the use of downpipes compulsory on all new construction. [citation|title=Holy Horrors|journal=The National Trust Magazine|date=Autumn 2007|pages=66–68]

For those who believed in evil spirits, gargoyles were powerful spirits in the service of the church. They were guardians of the buildings they were on and kept evil spirits away. Thus the faithful had no need to fear any evil spirit and could even laugh at it with impunity.

19th and 20th centuries

Monsters, or more precisely chimeras, were used as decoration on 19th and early 20th century buildings in cities such as New York (where the Chrysler Building's stainless steel gargoyles are celebrated), and Chicago. Gargoyles can be found on many churches and buildings.

One impressive collection of modern gargoyles can be found at Washington National Cathedral in Washington, DC. The cathedral, begun in 1908, is encrusted with the limestone demons. This collection also includes Darth Vader, a crooked politician, robots and many other modern spins on the ancient tradition. The 20th Century collegiate form of the Gothic Revival produced many modern gargoyles, notably at Princeton University, Washington University in St. Louis, Duke University and the University of Chicago.

Gargoyles in fiction

In contemporary fiction, gargoyles are typically depicted as a (generally) winged humanoid race with demonic features: generally horns, a tail, and talons. They are said to be guardians of the building on which they reside. These fictional gargoyles can generally use their wings to fly or glide, and are often depicted as having a rocky hide, or being capable of turning into stone in one way or another.

The TV movie and its sequel Reign of the Gargoyles feature attacks by living gargoyles.

Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame features three gargoyles as comic companions to Quasimodo.

Gargoyles, the animated series featured gargoyles as main characters who worked in conjuntion with a select group of humans to protect their roost (a Scottish Castle transported to America), fight crime, and explore mysteries of the world (current and mythical).

Andrew Davidson's novel "The Gargoyle" (Doubleday, 2008) is about the 700-year romance between a badly burned pornagrapher and a famous gargoyle sculptor.

ee also

* Hunky Punk
* Sheela na Gig
* Architectural sculpture
* Rainhead
* Gargoyle Gecko


*"Guide to Gargoyles and Other Grotesques" (2003) Wendy True Gasch, ISBN 0-9745299-0-7
*"The Stone Carvers: Master Craftsmen of the Washington National Cathedral" (1999) Marjorie Hunt, ISBN 1-56098-829-0 & 978-1-58834-247-8

External links

* [ - The origin of Gargoyles]

Photo gallery

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Gargoyle — bezeichnet: Wasserspeier (englisch Gargoyle, französisch Gargouille) Gargoyle Island, eine unbewohnte Insel im Nordpazifik, die zu den Fox Islands gehört Gargoyleosaurus, ein Vogelbeckensaurier des Oberjura eine Spielfigur aus dem… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • gargoyle — ► NOUN ▪ a grotesque carved human or animal face or figure projecting from the gutter of a building, usually as a spout to carry water clear of a wall. ORIGIN Old French gargouille throat , also gargoyle …   English terms dictionary

  • Gargoyle — Gar goyle, n. [OE. garguilie, gargouille, cf. Sp. g[ a]rgola, prob. fr. the same source as F. gorge throat, influenced by L. gargarizare to gargle. See {Gorge} and cf. {Gargle}, {Gargarize}.] (Arch.) A spout projecting from the roof gutter of a… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • gargoyle — grotesque carved waterspout, late 13c., gargurl, from O.Fr. gargole throat, waterspout (see GARGLE (Cf. gargle)) …   Etymology dictionary

  • gargoyle — [gär′goil΄] n. [ME gargule, throat < OFr gargouille: see GARGLE] 1. a waterspout, usually in the form of a grotesquely carved animal or fantastic creature, projecting from the gutter of a building 2. a projecting ornament (on a building) that… …   English World dictionary

  • gargoyle — gargoyled, adj. /gahr goyl/, n. 1. a grotesquely carved figure of a human or animal. 2. a spout, terminating in a grotesque representation of a human or animal figure with open mouth, projecting from the gutter of a building for throwing rain… …   Universalium

  • gargoyle — UK [ˈɡɑː(r)ɡɔɪl] / US [ˈɡɑrˌɡɔɪl] noun [countable] Word forms gargoyle : singular gargoyle plural gargoyles a stone statue of an ugly creature, used mainly on old churches for directing water away from the roof …   English dictionary

  • gargoyle — noun /ˈɡɑː.ɡɔɪl,ˈɡɑɹ.ɡɔɪl/ a) A carved grotesque figure on a spout which conveys water away from the gutters. From between set teeth came now a flow of oaths and imprecations as steady as the flow of water from the gargoyle overhead. b) Any… …   Wiktionary

  • gargoyle — [15] The ancient root *garg , *gurgoriginated as an imitation of throat sounds. From it were derived such guttural words as Greek gargaraaizein ‘gargle’ (whence Latin gargarizāre ‘gargle’) and Latin gurguliō ‘gullet’ (Latin gurges, source of… …   The Hutchinson dictionary of word origins

  • gargoyle — [[t]gɑ͟ː(r)gɔɪl[/t]] gargoyles N COUNT A gargoyle is a decorative stone carving on old buildings. It is usually shaped like the head of a strange and ugly creature, and water drains through it from the roof of the building …   English dictionary

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