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
I absolutely adore your collection. Do you have more? Please share them with us.
Funny you should mention that Yvonne. Yes I do have a few more, and maybe this is good idea for another post: Gurgling Gargoyles Part Deux. ~James
I recall some of these from other posts but all together that is a serious arsenal of drain pipes! I had no idea about the meaning of the word nor the purpose. Now I am afraid you have ignited my own gargoyle wanderlust. I shall be on the look out for ones you have not seen. 🙂
Sue, I think that these gargoyles are so fun, and it’s interesting that each one is unique. The metal ones are my faves because they are so complex, and I love the copper patina. My next challenge is to get a photo while the rain is pouring and the gargoyle is spewing water. ~James
Oh that would be fantastic! I will be on the watch too. 🙂
I love architectural details, and gargoyles are some of my favorite objects to photograph. I know you’ve been to Indonesia. Did you visit Borobudur? Did you notice its waterspouts? Here’s a glimpse of it: https://harindabama.files.wordpress.com/2011/03/brd-08.jpg
I have been to Borobudur Bama, but I don’t remember the gargoyles. But with all its terraces and different levels, of course the designers planned drainage. It’s interesting though, as I was putting this post together, I couldn’t come up with any gargoyles from SE Asia. I’m sure they’re there, but I didn’t have any photos. ~James
I love love love your collection!!! And I used to just take photos of small (almost unnoticeable) sculpture and other things just coz I found them lovely too. Haven’t really thought of them as something other than an intricate design. This collection makes me more inspired to collect further and now I just realized that some of which actually serves a purpose. Hah! 😀
Thanks. I love these fun and colorful embellishments, and I’m glad that you like them as well. We’ve done lots of posts on architectural details, and they’re always fun. I encourage you to look at your small sculptures and put them together into a post. It’s an unusual topic, and if you’re like me, it will motivate you to look at them in more detail and think through their artistic significance. Let me know how it goes. ~James
I agree… Thank you! 🙂
Wonderful collection. It is easy to get fixated on a particular item to photograph. For me it is stone arch bridges and covered bridges, oh, and waterfalls too! I have always loved gargoyles. I had one I kept on the dash in my truck, then in my jeep for years.
Thanks Laura. I’ve always enjoyed stone arch bridges as well, but I don’t have lots of opportunities to photograph them. I appreciate how much work and planning goes into each one, and how difficult it must be to build one, especially in the old days. BTW, why are covered bridges covered? I’ve read a few explanations, but what do you think? ~James
One of the main reasons was to keep the snow off the bridge. We have a stone arch bridge in the town we live in, it is one of two in the state where the radius is different at each end
That certainly makes perfect sense for your area. I had also read that it was to prevent horses from being skittish while crossing a bridge with no rails on the side. ~James
Thanks for the comment Nina and for dropping by the blog. I’m glad that you enjoyed the gargoyles. ~James
What a fun collection! I love these, too, but your pictures are far better than mine — you’ve got the angles as well as the eye! Love the long, stickin’ out variety in Krakow, that green one in Estonia reminds me of a puppet on Sesame Street! Love ’em all.
Rusha, the Tallinn gargoyle looks like a modern cartoon, but it’s draining the roof of the beautiful town hall which was built in 1530. And interestingly, gargoyles are tricky for me to photograph. They have bright sky on one side and usually a dark overhang on the other. Needless to say, I take lots of shots that don’t turn out well. ~James
Thanks for reminding me of our first long-term overseas adventure together, in Collioure, France, where green fired-clay dragons poured rainwater onto the streets. It’s a fond memory, as yours must be, given the loving care you’ve given to your collection of photos.
Thanks Tom. If you root around the internet, you’ll find that some of the most famous gargoyles are French – Notre Dame in Paris as a matter of fact. I read that you and Louise are freezin’ your butts there, and having having experienced some French winter myself, I can relate. I remember sitting on a stone bench in the snow, overlooking the Seine, and thinking: “What the hell am I doing here?” Hang in there, spring is just around the corner. ~James
Never knew the history of gargoyles. Once again you enchant and educate with your wonderful prose and photos!!
Thanks Martha. Aren’t these gargoyles wonderful. I’ve been meaning to publish this post forever, and I’m happy that I finally did. Art is a wonderful thing, but the pragmatist in me likes it when it’s functional as well. ~James
What fun! My favorite is the green dragon from Krakow. It’s interesting that several of them are sporting golden crowns.
Thanks Marilyn. I noticed that as well, and obviously the crown represents royalty, but I wasn’t able to establish exactly what the link is. Some of the Krakow gargoyle photos were taken in the Wawel Castle, which of course, was the King’s residence. The others, I’m not so sure about, but the gold crowns are neat. ~James
Great! if you are ever at Washington D.C.’s National Cathedral, look for the two carvings: a stone carver (whistling at a girl as I recall) and a bishop with his hands at his cheeks in shock.
Thanks for the info. I love that they have a sense of humor, especially on a Cathedral. I checked this out online, and: “There are 112 gargoyles, the last completed in 1987, and more than 3,000 grotesques and other architectural carvings.” Wow, this would be a gargoyle gold mine. Next time I’m in the area, I’ll check it out. ~James
Love these especially the ones in Rothenburg and San Miguel.
Joyce, don’t you love the cactus growing in a downspout. The gargoyles in San Miguel had more of a sense of humor, and I can’ imagine how long it took the cactus to grow. Hope you and Dascal are well. Love, JH
This is a wonderful collection and I don’t blame you one bit for amassing so many. I’m fascinated as well because of your sharing here. Thank you. ❤
Thanks Tess. I enjoy writing these photo-inspired posts. We’ve done doors, gates, and now gargoyles. I’ll have to go back to the iPhoto mine to see if there are other topics. ~James
I enjoy all your posts. 🙂
Great collection. It is funny how when you notice things like this and starting taking photos, that you see it everywhere. (I had a similar compulsion with people using iPads for cameras). We just don’t make buildings like we used to, do we? These details give the buildings so much character.
Art and function – the best of both worlds Jeff. Wouldn’t you love just one of these on your house. If you could find an artist to make one it would probably cost a fortune, but how cool would it be? ~James
Great fun. I snapped some of those in Tallinn too.
Dorothy, I saw another water spout in Tallinn that I particularly loved but couldn’t include because it wasn’t a gargoyle. It was a 5 ft boot! If you remember there, were two areas; the old historic walled city down the hill, and the area where the rich folks lived on top of the hill. The boot was on a building on the main path up the hill. It was so cool. ~James
So interesting once again. Years ago I had bought some small, stone gargoyle sculptures at an architectural store in Chicago. For years, especially when my kids were small, they referred to them as “the monsters.” I had to keep them in the basement. And even now, with them both nearly grown, they don’t want them displayed because they say it brings back bad memories – I just can’t win with the darn things! I do think they are beautiful and look for them on buildings as well – supposed to scare away evil spirits like you mentioned. Thanks for jogging my memory! 🙂
Kelly, your kids may not be far off the mark. This was more info than I wanted to put into the post, but in order to be called a gargoyle, the sculpture must drain water. If it isn’t a water spout, it’s called a chimera, and if the sculpture is strictly decorative, it’s called a grotesque. So, depending on what you bought in Chicago, it could actually be a “monster.” ~James
They do not drain water, they have no spouts, they are decorative…well thanks James for making my day! Explains my bad luck! 🙂
I love this! These are really cool. I love the creativity of people.
Thanks Pam. The metal gargoyles are particularly creative and whimsical. They certainly whiz up boring gutters. ~James
I wonder what Richard would think if I livened up our gutters at home? I’m thinking frogs or gators since it is Florida. 🙂
Go with the gators Pam. Shoot, if you can get it by Richard you could even put wings on them. ~James
Like you, I’ve been fascinated by gargoyles and have tried taking photos of all that I encounter. Your photos are considerably better!! I didn’t know, however, that they were drainage spouts. I often wondered why they were built poking out of the corners of a building. Now that you’ve mentioned it, it’s so obvious!!
The variety of gargoyles you’ve discovered is truly impressive 🙂
Joanne, you didn’t see all the stinker shots that didn’t make into the post. As I said to another commenter gargoyles are tricky for me to photograph. They have bright sky on one side and usually a dark overhang on the other so they turn out too dark or too bright. I just have to take lots of shots to get it right. ~James
That’s exactly the problem I’ve been having. Thanks for suggesting it wasn’t just my incompetence as a photographer 😉
Great collection! Thanks for sharing them.
Thanks. This was a fun post to put together, and I’m glad you enjoyed it. ~James
I had no idea that gargoyles had any other purpose than scaring people. Now you’ve proved that all over the world, people have been having tons of fun with them, and I’m the one who’s been missing out.
It’s interesting that you mention people being scared of them. In fact, in the Middle Ages some monks complained that they didn’t want all these grotesque sculptures watching over them while they prayed and meditated. ~James
What an image. All of a sudden I see a menacing smile on the gargoyle’s face. 🙂
I am sure the gargoyle that fell off the roof and bonked someone on the head was doing in a sinner, James. Sort of like Liberia when anyone was struck with lightning… another bad guy bit the dust. Now-a-days if anyone got hit on the head by a gargoyle, there would probably be a hefty lawsuit involved, at least there would be in the U.S. 🙂 –Curt
Curt, being hit by a falling gargoyle could certainly be construed as bad Catholic karma for sure. Some of the carved ones that we saw were 6-7 ft long, so I’m certain that when they fell everyone noticed. ~James
Such an impressive collection! From little things, big things grow…
Thanks Chris. The gargoyles we’ve seen come in all shapes and sizes, and they make colorful and attractive photographs. ~James
Just spied a couple of water spouts today at a Terracotta house in Colombia and immediately thought of you!
What splendid examples of gargoyles…oh the things they must have seen! The Mexican ones are funny with the cactus growing on them.
These Mexican ones were really funny, and they raised all sorts of questions. For instance, are they natural or were they planted? And if they were planted, why? I mean; they are supposed to drain water from the roof, and a plant in the tube must certainly slow the drainage. Pretty weird – and cool at the same time. ~James
What a great collection! I have a few, but where as extensive or well organized.
Thanks for the comment Jonathan and for dropping by the blog. It took a bit of online research and head scratching to get them organized, but it works. ~James
Great collection of photos there. I like a nice gargoyle 🙂
Me too Marie; me too. ~James
First of all, I loved this post! Second of all, I now see where the word ‘gargle’ comes from!
And finally, I enjoyed seeing your amazing gargoyle pics and learning about their different styles! The winged dragons are very cool… There are gargoyles here in NYC on buildings and you’ve inspired me to take a tour around town in search of them!
Thanks Lia. I don’t know NYC well, but I suspect that you’ll find most of the gargoyles there on cathedrals and turn of the century buildings. In the US, that seems to be where most of them are. Good hunting, and if you do a post, let me know. ~James
Thanks James ! I’ll go gargoyle hunting and let you know when I post! Thanks for the inspiration 🙂
I love gargoyles and adore your collection! I have a small one I’ve named Gaston that I found in a gallery in Sedona. He has been with me for many years now. Would love to see the rest of your collection.
Thanks LuAnn. As you can tell, I’m partial to gargoyles as well. And until I wrote this post, I hadn’t thought about the connection with gargoyles in Mexico. And who knows, maybe there will be a Gargoyles Part Deux post in the future. ~James
What a delightful and eclectic collection of gargoyles! I especially love the quirky East European ones. Surprised that there aren’t any from Paris! 🙂
Thanks Madhu. I haven’t been to Paris in a while and when I was there, I hadn’t started my photo collection. But it’s certainly home to lots of gargoyles. Notre Dame Cathedral has some of the most famous gargoyles, chimeras and grotesques in the world. ~James
love gargoyles and all of the gorgeous art on the OLD buildings of Europe, Scandinavia, Israel… Great photos, James!
Thanks Dawn. Aren’t these fun! I’ve planned on pulling this post together forever, and I’m glad that I finally managed to do it. ~James
Great collection of photos! I love gargoyles. I don’t know why. If you knew me, you’d be surprised to learn this because it doesn’t seem like something that would really be my thing. But when I saw my first ones in San Antonio, TX, I was hooked. There’s just something about them. I just love ’em.
Obviously, I share your feeling about gargoyles Juliann. I’m a practical guy, and I guess for, me gargoyles are an interesting combination of function and art. I particularly like the whimsical metal ones with the nice green copper patina. ~James
These are great!
Thanks, this was one of those posts that was lots of fun to pull together. ~James