Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Gargoyles on Churches

In a recent discussion on CDF a non-Catholic was asking about gargoyles on churches, below is my response to this person:
SP: But, don't you think it's odd to have monstrous artwork ordaining your churches.
sw: Gargoyles on churches served a utilitarian function, they directed water flowing from the roof of the church away from the walls and foundations.  Not all gargoyles are grotesque creatures.  That being said, there's no precise reason given for the use of hideous gargoyles, but lots of speculations.
First off, we must remember that gargoyles serve an architectural purpose - preserving the walls and foundations of the buildings upon which they sit.  Second, the name - while TODAY we might associate it with something evil and/or grotesque, what it boils down to is a Latin word, "gurgulio" which is also where we get the word "gargle."  The name is given to the statuary because of the sound the water makes going through them - so there's nothing sinister in the name.

The reasons for the designs range from a hold-over from pagan days, but this, if you'll pardon the pun, doesn't hold much water.  Great, tall buildings in the West were more part of the Medieval and later periods and that is when the use of gargoyles came into play for the building of large churches (though they do date back to even ancient Egyptian architecture too).  Some speculate they have no meaning at all - they're just serving a purpose.  Others say they were specifically designed to remind parishners of the evils which lurk around outside and along the same lines, some think there was some superstitious reason that the gargoyles were thought to ward off evil spirits.  Then you will have still others who think the designers of churches were deliberately posting evil sentries on churches as if some sort of secret message that the Church was really evil - but only the ignorant and/or conspiracy-theorists get into such off-based thinking.

SP:  If there were gargoyles on my church, I'd think something stunk in Denmark.

sw: Well, you shouldn't and if you take some time to actually learn about the history and the architectural purpose of gargoyles, you wouldn't be so suspicious.

I hope this helps you understand better,

Go out to all the world and tell the Good News.

1 comment:

  1. Romanesque and Gothic churches are decked out with many sculptural references to the reality of Hell. It's hardly limited to gargoyles.

    If only the wages of sin were so clearly depicted on churches today.


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