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Gargoyles are decorative waterspouts found primarily in Medieval Christian architecture. Gargoyles can be carvings of humans or animals, but most famously, gargoyles can also be in the form of monstrous creatures.

In modern fantasy, gargoyles are imagined as ferocious monsters that have stony skin or that turn to stone during the day.

Etymology

The name originates from the French gargouille, which likely means "throat/gullet" or "to swallow" which represented the gurgling sound of water.

Architectural Function

Gargoyles mounted on the Notre Dame

In architecture, a gargoyle is a stone-carved guardian mounted on the sides of buildings. With a spout design to convey water from a roof and away from the side of the building to prevent water from running down masonry walls and eroding the mortar between. Architects often used multiple gargoyles on buildings to divide the flow of rainwater off the roof to minimize the potential damage from a rainstorm.

Traditions

This legend was the origin for the bishops' privilege (lasting until 1790) to pardon one prisoner condemned to death each year, by giving the pardoned man or woman the reliquary holding Romanus's relics in a procession.

Protectors or Monsters?

Despite their frightening appearance, Gargoyles are guardians who are known to protect buildings from evil spirits, and do no harm to humans. Due to this, churches, which were considered holy places, often had these creatures on the roof to ward off the devil and demons. They are also suitable as guardians, as they have a high defense from their stony skin making them difficult to wound.

In a few variations on the legends, gargoyles can be seen as the evil beings that eat humans or are vessels for demons, serving those who have summoned them. In some cases, due to this change in reputation a few Gargoyles were removed from their buildings.

Modern Depictions

Literature

  • Gargoyles also appear in the Discworld universe, such as Constable Downspout in Feet of Clay.

Film & Animation

  • In the TV series Gargoyles (1994–1997) by Disney, gargoyles are nocturnal creatures that battle other monsters to protect humanity.
  • They appear in the Doctor Who episode "The Daemons" (1971).
  • In The Horn of Vapula (1932) a demon familiar is bound into a horned and goatlike gargoyle.

Games

  • Gargoyles are a type of monster found in Dungeons & Dragons.

Gallery

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