Every gardener has flower bed décor in addition to their plants, water features, bird feeders and walkways. I have blue ceramic globes the size of bowling balls, shimmery dragonfly plant stakes, orange and pink whirly-gigs plus a few statues. Most of the statues I inherited from my grandpa – a large rooster, Saint Jude, a broken angel and a small gargoyle. And I have a great scary gargoyle my sons gave me for Christmas one year. I love it!
Every garden should have a gargoyle. They have an interesting history that makes their presence near your doorways, corners of the garden or even the downspout fun. Let me share.
The word “gargoyle” comes from the French word “gargouille” or throat. The word “gargoyle” is also a Latin derivative for “gurgulio,” which has a double meaning of “throat” and the “gurgling” sound water makes as it passes through a pipe. A true gargoyle is a waterspout. Though a more common belief is that gargoyles are protectors to keep evil away.
Many cultures throughout history created sculptures of fantastic creatures to stir our imagination. To understand gargoyles, you must delve into psychology, culture, symbolism, history and religion.
Gargoyles can be traced back 4000 years to Egypt, Rome and Greece. Terracotta water spouts depicting lions, eagles and other mythological creatures such as harpies, centaurs, griffins and chimeras were common.
During the 1200s when gargoyles first appeared in Europe, the Roman Catholic Church was actively converting people to Christianity. Since most people were not literate, images were very important in communicating ideas and telling the stories of the faith. Many of the pagan images were of animals or mixtures of animals and humans. Integrating familiar pagan images on churches and cathedrals encouraged the populace to accept the new religion and ease the transition from the old ways and old beliefs.
One gargoyle legend tells the story of a fierce dragon named La Gargouille who lived in a cave near the River Seine. He had a long reptilian neck, a slender snout and membranous wings. The dragon caused much fear and destruction with its fiery breath. Each year, the residents of Rouen would placate Gargouille by offering of a victim (rumor has it the dragon preferred maidens). Eventually, the village was saved by St. Romanis, who promised to deal with the dragon if the townspeople agreed to be baptized and to build a church. Romanis subdued the dragon and burned La Gargouille at the stake. His head and neck were so well tempered by the heat of his own fiery breath that they would not burn. These remnants were then mounted on the town wall and became the model for gargoyles for centuries to come.
Churches and cathedrals also served as “sermons in stone,” which could be “read” by an illiterate population. Since gargoyles were on the outside of the cathedral and scenes of the Bible and statues of Jesus, Mary and the Saints where common inside the building, this represented God’s power to protect the believers. They also represented the struggle between good and evil and symbolized how God was the only protection from evil in a fallen world.
Gargoyles stand guard, warding off unwanted spirits and other creatures. If they’re hideous and frightening enough, they are especially effective in scaring away all sorts of other threatening creatures. It was even believed that some came alive at night, protecting people when they were most vulnerable. Better still, the ones with wings could fly and protect the village and church.
Gargoyles crafted during medieval time became increasingly grotesque. They were referred to as chimeras, representations of creatures that were not of this world such as half man, and half bird or beast. These new incarnations were either depicted sitting on their haunches or poised to take flight. They also possessed over exaggerated muzzles or beaks and other odd appendages. They were positioned on a cornice molding so they projected forward and away from the building for a number of feet. In this way the gargoyle was able to spew water far from the building.
It is interesting to note that once lead drainpipes were introduced in the 16th Century there was no longer any practical need for gargoyles. However, architects and builders continued to incorporate them into their building designs, but now gargoyles served only decorative or whimsical purposes.
Credit for much of my research should go to http://northstargallery.com/gargoyles/aboutgargoyles.htm
A great site for purchasing your own gargoyle http://www.designtoscano.com/