How To In Text Reference Artwork By Name Chicago Style The Symbolism of Gargoyle Statues

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The Symbolism of Gargoyle Statues

Gargoyle statues are a popular choice for our homes and gardens today. Our fascination with these grotesque creatures is apparently as prevalent now as it was in medieval times.

Neo-Gothic artists take inspiration from the extravagant Gothic designs of the 15th century, creating modern gargoyle statues in the “cathedral style”. Gargoyle statues allow the artist great freedom of style and expression and incorporate a variety of styles from the monstrous and grotesque to the funny or whimsical.

St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who lived in 12th-century France, made this now-famous complaint about the gargoyle sculptures he saw around him:

“What are these fantastic monsters doing in the cloisters under the very eyes of the brothers as they read? What is the meaning of these unclean monkeys, strange lions, and wild monsters? Why are these half-beast, half-man creatures placed here? ?I see several bodies with a head and several heads with one body. Here a quadruped with the head of a snake, there a fish with the head of a quadruped, then again an animal half horse half goat… Surely if we do not blush at such absurdities we should at least repent of the what we spend on them.”

Although there are no ancient texts that explain the meaning of these strange creatures, we know that since the Bronze Age craftsmen used grotesque forms such as gorgons, griffins and sphinxes to ward off the powers of evil. Perhaps medieval man felt that he could ward off the forces of evil by presenting an equally powerful array of evil forces.

Some believe that the grotesque gargoyles were meant to be guardians of the church, magical signs to protect the devil. Fusions of animals, humans and mythical creatures have long been used by artists to create terrifying images. The devil was said to be always watching, just as gargoyles always looked down on passers-by. Everywhere one looked these silent observers watched patiently.

The fact that these grotesque creatures were allowed in the medieval church, otherwise adorned with beautiful works of art, could be explained by the notion that the devil is actually on God’s side, doing God’s work when he punishes the wicked. Many gargoyles look demonic and seem to perch on church ledges, frozen in flight but ready to pounce on the unsuspecting at any moment.

A popular belief is that the grotesque gargoyles were used to educate by scaring or shocking a largely illiterate pagan population into “behaving”. Physical deformities in medieval times were seen as an act of the devil so these gargoyles served as a warning to sinners.

Some believe that these monstrous gargoyles represented the souls of humans condemned for their sins. The price for sinning, even if they were saved from eternal damnation, would be to turn to stone. This would correspond to the theory that gargoyles are for education, since then they would be reminders of what could happen to those who did not obey religious laws.

However, not all gargoyles were intended to frighten, scold or threaten. Some seem to have a more profane purpose; to entertain or amuse. Rather than inspiring dread, the more comical gargoyles have lively faces and animated poses, conveying a remarkable sense of energy and adding a lot of character to the buildings they’re in. However, even these more comical gargoyles may have conveyed more than just amusement to their original creators and viewers, as humorous images are often used to say things that could not be said, and satire has long been used to confront unpleasant, controversial, or scary topics.

That the gargoyles can be interpreted as good and bad, is served by a description found in the Roman d’Abladane written by a bishop of the thirteenth century. It describes how there were two gargoyles at the then gate of Amiens who could assess the motivation of each person who came to the city. If one had bad intentions the gargoyles would spit at them such a horrible poison that it would cover them and they would die. But when the lord of the city arrived, he would collide with gold from one gargoyle and silver from the other.

Modern gargoyles come in a variety of styles, both terrifying and fun. What you chose and the symbolism or meaning attached to it really comes down to your personal style. Gargoyle statues are believed to offer protection from evil and many people display them near the front door of the house or in a prominent part of the garden.

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