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Gargoyles are traditionally thought to be created during the medieval period, but examples have been found in ancient civilizations as well. Gargoyles were placed on the roofs of Egyptian temples where their mouths served as a spout for water. Similar pieces were also seen on Greek temples, though the figures were often carved into the shape of lions and other ferocious animals.The name gargoyle is often attributed to St. Romanus, or Romain. According to legend, he saved his country from a monster by the name of Goji, sometimes called Gargouille. Supposedly the monster was so scary looking that it frightened off evil spirits. This led to some calling the monster a protector and placing similar carved pieces on churches and other important buildings. The Tower of London in England is surrounded by gargoyles, all bearing different grimaces.
Throughout history gargoyles have been created in a number of different images and figures. Some images have even included people in the figures, such as a monk. They occasionally continued to serve as water spouts and rain spouts, but were often more ornamental, meaning they didn’t provide a function. As these spouts became less popular, so too did the use of gargoyles.
Starting in the 19th century, gargoyles became more of a decoration than anything else. Some of the more famous gargoyles from history are those used on Notre Dame de Paris. Even in the United States, gargoyles were used on more modern buildings as a form of decoration, such as the stainless steel versions used on the Chrysler Building in New York City. The Washington National Cathedral in Washington D.C. also used gargoyles. The popularity of the Gothic Revival movement in the United States helped encourage the use of gargoyles, and can be found at Princeton University, University of Chicago and Duke University.
More Information on Gargoyles
- Gargoyles at Wikipedia – shows a short history and images used in popular culture.
- A Love of Monsters – lists tours and walks in New York City to see the different gargoyles found on architecture.
- New York Carver – lists the evolution of gargoyles in architecture.
- Gargoyles in NYC – list dozens of images of gargoyles found around New York City, including their history.
- Gargoyle Store – contains links to fact sheets and histories of gargoyles and griffins.
- The History of Gargoyles – lists the history and the types of different gargoyles found throughout history.
- The Gargoyles of Princeton University – this page is devoted to the gargoyles found on campus and includes a tour of all those found.