I have, for years, been fascinated by gargoyles, those grotesque creatures sneering at us from the facades and spires of Gothic cathedrals. Their inclusion on these monumental structures is not arbitrary. Great care was taken to convey a message to the faithful. Each creature had its own symbolism. However gargoyles were not included just for decorative and symbolic reasons. They also have the very mundane function of channeling water from the spires and buttresses of these immense cathedrals to the ground. You may be able to view this happening in this photo of some of the gargoyles situated on Notre Dame cathedral in Paris.
Having a naturally active imagination I tend to focus less on the practical use of gargoyles and let my thoughts take flight to come up with the most outrageous stories. For are we sure that these creatures were carved out of stone by human hands? Perhaps once there were dogs, wolves, sheep, humans, even, who were turned into stone by an evil sorcerer. Maybe, undercover of the night, they turn back to the beings there once were, free to roam the streets but cursed to take up their position as soon as the first rays of dawn appear on the horizon. Or it could be that they invade our sleep, with that perpetual ugly sneer on their face, and turn our pleasant dreams into nightmares.
For centuries they have looked down on us from their dizzying perch, grinning at our folly, delighting in our mortality, while they have remained frozen in time. So much must have changed before their all-seeing eyes as the cities below them grew and prospered or fell into ruin and decline. At once grisly, grotesque and eerily fascinating, gargoyles are the product of a different era when war, pestilence and death were a daily occurrence and, even today, when most of us do not give them so much as a second thought, they serve to remind us of the precarious frailty of human life.
- Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
- Sacre Couer Basilica, Paris (this is not a Gothic church but it still has some great gargoyles)
- St Severin Church, Paris
- Duomo of Santa Maris Assunta, Pisa