What’s the meaning of gargoyles? And what’s the difference between a gargoyle and a grotesque?

This is the Burrage House in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood. (Take a peek inside this historic building here.) And it’s covered in ridiculously detailed stone ornamentation.

Gargoyles are frightening stone creatures most widely known as the lofty denizens of Gothic cathedrals. Their purpose is actually twofold.

The first meaning of gargoyles was practical

They served as rain spouts to divert water off the cathedrals. (“Gargoyle” actually comes from the French legend of La Gargouille, a dragon that terrorized residents of Rouen.)

By channeling rain off the stone walls, gargoyles prevented it from eroding the masonry. Earlier examples of animal-themed drain spouts can actually be found in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome and Turkey.

The second was spiritual

They were believed to ward off evil. They were also intended to put the fear of a fiery hell into illiterate parishioners.

The idea was that evil dwelt outside the church, and salvation lay within. They helped enforce church attendance and keep the parish docile. Important at a time when the Church was waging a very real battle against pagans.

The Church actually also modeled some carvings after pagan creatures, trying to make their buildings more visually appealing to heathens.

A grotesque is a similar stone carving, but one that doesn’t act as a gutter spout. Grotesques were also sometimes placed inside churches to guard holy items.

What do you think of gargoyles?

Do you like gargoyles? What is the meaning of gargoyles to you? And where is your favorite one?

Drop me a comment, I’d love it if you shared!

See other posts from in and around Boston and Salem, Massachusetts here.