Image: Strange and/or bizarre looking animal or man, perched on something as if waiting for a person to come by.
Power: Protection, Trickster energy, inversion of the normal
Symbology: Horrifying and fascinating at the same time, attractive and repellant, the world turned on its side.
A gargoyle is: A water spout, especially one projecting from a gutter and intended to throw the water away from the walls and foundations. In medieval architecture, the gargoyles, which had to be very numerous because of the many gutters which were carried on the tops of flying buttresses, and higher and lower walls, were often very decorative, consisting, as they did, of stone images of grotesque animals, and the like, or, in smaller buildings of iron or lead.
So, studiously ignoring those words of wisdom, here are some possible explanations I've come across:
· rainwater plumbing (this is certain but does not explain why so many are carved creatures, nor the various forms)
· warding off evil - a "kiss my ass" keep away deterrent to demons
· warding off evil - a "don't bother, we're here already doing demonic stuff" deterrent to demons
· a reminder to parishioners of the perils of evil - bad guys are marginalised to the outside of the church (but why so high up and hard to see?)
· as pagan symbols to encourage believers in pre-Christian ways to come to church (make them feel welcomed or at home, as it were)
· decoration (but why so ugly? why so hard to see)
· a juxtaposition or balance of ugliness against the beauty inside the building (a very medieval concept which we find hard to understand these days)
· insurance policy against building collapse, related to warding off evil (this one's obscure and I think it says more out modern interpretation of the medieval mind than architectural principles)
For some of the more interesting ones (mooning or nose picking or caricatures), they may possibly be:
· symbolic object lessons on the perils of unconventionality
· carved out of mischief (e.g. there are defecating gargoyles, these are generally difficult to see, being high up or in obscure parts of the building)
· as retribution for not paying the stone carver
· fun (who knows what the medieval sense of humour was?)
· caricatures of people maybe local clergy, which may be mischief or fun or possibly honour.
To them, Gothic sculpture celebrated mystery and ambiguity, while embodying the passion and high standards of medieval craftsmanship. Nineteenth-century idealists interpreted the fierce creatures perched on the heights of medieval buildings as stone sentinels, and admired their ability to simultaneously horrify and fascinate. Proponents of the Gothic Revival embraced religious mysticism and cultivated a deep appreciation for the value of craftsmanship.
During the Gothic Revival in Britain and France, the grotesque represented a world turned upside down, where, for instance, monsters guarded the church. … What was initially a sentimental curiosity for crumbling ruins led to an archaeological interest in medieval architecture.
British Romantics developed a new literary genre: the Gothic horror novel. Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, two of the most famous examples, emphasized remote medieval settings—particularly castles and preferably in ruins—as ideal settings for their Romantic tales of horror. The medieval structures, they felt, seemed splendid, yet sinister. In their fast-changing, modern world, Gothic architecture suggested irrationality, a contrast of soaring beauty and worldly grotesque.
Humor is a major feature of the Gothic grotesque. Many sculptural series depict characters from the margins of society, not simply as diverting ornamentation, but as characters in a topsy-turvy world on edge. Nineteenth-century Romantics were attracted to the instability and irrationality this carnivalesque atmosphere evoked.
At Wells, England, a series of capitals in the cathedral depicts a series of amusing grotesqueries: a “mouth puller” (possibly a toothache sufferer) contorts his face, mocking worshippers inside the section of church where the lay congregates worshipped. In another series, vineyard robbers wrestle in humorous, yet violent episodes
Though the variety of gargoyles are as numerous as the artists who created them there are a few reoccurring commonalties:
The Green Man - He is depicted as a man’s face peering through a mask of green leaves, usually Oak. Sometimes he may have horns. He is also called "Green Jack", Jack-in-the-Green and "Green George".
Big Wide-Open Mouths - Mouths wide open is symbolic of devouring giants. Pulling the mouth open is a gesture that reminds us that evils larger than us exist.
Disembodied Heads - 5th Century Celts were head-hunters who displayed and worshipped the heads they severed as a repository of divine power.
Horned Creatures - These beasts grew to become images of Satan. The tongue that Satan displays in many of these carved works represents traitors, heretics and blasphemers. He is meant to be funny instead of repulsive as he taunts his victim.
The Seven Deadly Sins - These are characterized by animals: