Like most collectors I started small. In fact, in the beginning I had no intention of becoming a collector. But it only took the second photo, and Bam!, I was a gargoyle waterspout photo collector.
If you’ve followed our blog for a while, you’ve noticed that we enjoy architectural details. We’ve had luscious Peruvian balconies, opulent Spanish arches, and a baby-blue Slovak church. And now, it’s the weird and wonderful world of gargoyles.
The word gargoyle originates from the old French word gargouille meaning throat. Architects began using gargoyles on Gothic cathedrals between the 11th – 13th Centuries. The idea was simple; drain water from the church roof to prevent damage to the building walls and foundation. A long, straight spout would have done the job, but if you’ve seen many Gothic buildings you know that few opportunities for ornate decorations were passed up – hence artistically carved stone gargoyles.
Most frequently, gargoyles were winged dragons, but they could also be other animals (and hybrid animals), mythical creatures and even humans. In addition to their water draining duties, depending on who you read, they were thought to ward off evil, or meant to warn churchgoers about evil.
The earliest waterspouts were carved stone. Carvers worked at ground level and the sculptures were attached to the rooftops after completion. Given the length required to effectively drain the water, these heavy sculptures must have been tricky to attach. And a falling gargoyle must have beaned the wrong person, because in 1724 Parliament passed the London Building Act which made the use of downpipes (downspouts) compulsory on all new construction.
More modern gargoyles were made of metal, usually copper or bronze. This softer material gave artists much more flexibility which led to considerably more eclectic and flamboyant designs.
Krakow was a veritable mother lode of metal gargoyles and these copper beauties are my favorites.
The Tallinn City Hall has a colorful, more-fun-than-graceful gargoyle that wouldn’t be out of place in a children’s fairy tale.
Most of my gargoyle viewing has been in Europe, but our trip to San Miguel de Allende in the Central Highlands of Mexico showed a completely different style.
Modern historians aren’t overly kind to the Conquistadores, but when Columbus and his compatriots came to the Americas, in addition to unspeakable oppression, misery, and pestilence; European ideas and technology sailed with them. And one of these tiny technologies was the ability to effectively drain water from rooftops preventing damage to adobe walls.
Over the centuries architects have devised all sorts of embellishments to make buildings more interesting and attractive. But for my money, a snarling, double-duty gargoyle is one of the biggest bangs for the buck.
James & Terri