Monday, January 25, 2010

Une Gargouille

Gargoyles are fascinating bits of architecture. They come in all shapes and sizes from the purely functional to the ornate and fantastical. The ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans used gutter systems and gargoyles to throw rain water away from their buildings' walls.

A rather plain and unassuming gargoyle.

The gargoyles that we are probably most familiar with are carved in the shapes of grotesque animals peering down from the heights of gothic cathedrals. In addition to their water spouting duties, such gargoyles are said to have had spooky supernatural purposes like warding off evil spirits. I would expect no less from waterspouts on religious buildings.

The word gargouille means 'gurgle;' its verb form, gargouiller, 'to gurgle.' Its origin is likely from the Latin gurgulio meaning 'throat.'

I saw this one on a small castle-style building in Vendôme. I believe the building is the Porte Saint-Georges, a gate into the city where a bridge crosses the Loir. It was built in the fourteenth century but was embellished with more ornate features in the sixteenth century by the duchess of Vendôme, Marie de Luxembourg. The city council has met in the building since then.

Vendôme is the northern of the two sub-prefectures in the Loir-et-Cher département. The other, in the southern end of the département, is a small city called Romorantin. The main prefecture is in Blois.


  1. Love gargoyles! It seems you rarely see them here in New England, but there is one gargoyle I know of on a church in Worcester MA. that is conveniently located at a stop light! He's a dragon gargoyle and the next time I see him I am definitely taking a photo of him for my blog too.

    Thanks for this post. My eight year old son has been asking about what they are for and I'm going to show this post to him later today after school.

    1. Actually there is quite a few gargoyles on churches in Worcester, MA but I believe the dragon gargoyle you referred to is on the All Saints Episcopal Church on Pleasant Street:

  2. As always, your pic is beautiful. Man, you have a good eye!

    Gargoyles scare me, but I still love them. I stumbled upon a gargoyle store in Tampa, FL once, and ended up going back there over and over again, buying small ones to give to my friends. I was afraid to keep any for myself.

  3. Actually, the gargoyles depicting some sort of animal are called 'chimeras'.

  4. No kidding, Starman? I had seen that term before, but I didn't realize what it was. What kind of gargoyles do NOT depict animals? I mean, what do they depict, if not animals?

  5. I too love Gargoyles!
    they are some of the best things that have come out of France, except the cheese.

  6. Walt,
    Just back from a week in Adelaide and catching up on my blog reading.
    Gargoyles also fascinate me since watching the old B&W movie of the Hunchback of Notre Dame.
    Here in Melbourne there are homes built in the late 1800s and very early 1900s that we call "Federation style". At the peak of the rooftops are terracotta gargoyles, well not exactly the same, purely decoration. I once saw one house that had two in the shape of both a kangaroo and an emu - Australia's symbols on the Oz crest, seriously...
    Anyway, not as scary as the ones on French churches or cathedrals.

  7. suzanne, oh, I'd love to see it. You should also point your son to the wikipedia article on gargoyles. It's much more informative.

    larry, thanks!

    starman, I was under the impression that anything that serves the function of a waterspout is a gargoyle, and that sculptures of dragons, demons, and other grotesques that do not function as waterspouts are known as chimeras.

    judy, any waterspout is a gargoyle; they don't have to be in the shape of anything, really, other than that necessary to fulfill the function.

    michael, if you like the cheese that comes out of France, you should taste the stuff that stays here!

    leon, I saw some news about the Adelaide event on the sports channels here. It's kind of being eclipsed by Melbourne's little tennis tournament, however.

  8. Yes, I'd forgotten about the tennis and it won't be too difficult who the winner will be - again.

  9. Apparently, the usage has become so common that anything can be called a gargoyle, whether or not it drains water and whatever shape it may take.

  10. The best gargoyles that I have seen were on one of the churches in Quito, Ecuador. They are in the shapes of Ecuadorian animals- jaguars, monkeys, even sea turtles. Photo here.


Tell me what you think!