13th-century France is the earliest known existance of these grotesquely carved human/animal figures. Gargoyle are found on an architectural structure, originally designed (believe it or not) to serve as a spout to throw rainwater clear of a building. They later became strictly ornamental and assumed many forms. Today the legends and mystery surrounding the actual reason behind covering downspouts with elaborate figures are just as varied as the individual creatures themselves. It has been said that no two gargoyles are alike, but no one seems to have a definitive reason why...
Some say they were meant to ward off the devil, while others believe they were meant to remind parishioners of the perils of evil. Perhaps the most interesting story, however, involves a priest and a dragon:
The priest Romanus struck a deal with the villagers of Rouen, promising to take care of the dragon called La Gargouille if they agreed to be baptized Boden Gargoyle Sentineland to build a church. The villagers agreed, and the priest headed to the River Seine, where he subdued the dragon in its cave and led it back to the town to be burned at the stake. The dragon’s head and neck, however, were well-tempered from his fire-breathing habits, and so would not burn. The remnants were instead mounted on the town wall
-- hence, the first true gargoyle!
The word gargoyle itself comes from the Old French word Gargouille meaning throat or gullet. This word is used to describe the sound that is produced when water passes through the throat and mixes with air (origin of the word gargle). This word was originally used in reference to the drains atop medieval cathedrals which were later carved into the form of beasts or animals. We generally describe gargoyles as any sculpted creature inhabiting the upper levels of buildings, be they cathedrals or not.
Gargoyles which combine several different animals are also known as chimeras. Ancient myths often tell of beings made out of several creatures joined together in a single one: a human head on a lion body makes a sphinx, on a bird's torso a siren, and on that of a fish a mermaid. Some of these beings are true races, as the centaurs (half man and half horse), the harpies (another kind of woman/bird mixture), and the satyrs (men with goat's legs). Others come as one of a kind, as the Minotaur (half man and half bull), Echidna (half woman and half snake), and the Chimaera (or Chimera), this time a mixture of lion, goat, and snake.
God bless the Gargoyles
by Dav Pilkey
In a long-ago time, when long ago peoples
were building cathedrals and raising up steeples,
they crafted stone creatures and set them on perches
to guard and protect and watch over the churches.
so gargoyles were born, and they stood night and day,
keeping evil and terrible spirits away.
And ne'er was a creature so true and so loyal
as the watchful, courageous, and fearless gargoyle.
but the years came and went, and the people did, too.
and in time, they forgot what their ancestors knew.
and whenever they passed by the gargoyles' lairs,
they trembled in fear at the gargoyles' stares.
And as time went along, people's fear turned to spite,
and they sneered and they cursed at the guardians of night:
"demons!" they grumbled -- "grotesque!" and "horrid!"
"those beasts don't belong on the house of the lord!"
when the gargoyles heard these words that were spoken,
their stony old hearts became crumbled and broken.
then storms rumbled in, and their eyes filled with rain,
and in stillness they stayed, alone and in pain.
But as it so happened, some angels were near,
and heeding the grief of a gargoyle's tear,
they each fluttered down from the heavens on high
to sit with the gargoyles beneath thundering skies.
now, angels have ways of making things right,
so they stayed with the gargoyles all through the night,
patting their heads and wiping their tears
and whispering life into gargoyle ears.
and soon all the gargoyles did magical things:
they gurgled and coughed and shook out their wings.
then together the angels and gargoyles took flight,
and they soared through the clouds on a blustery night.
and while over pastures and hills they were winging,
the voices of angels were radiantly singing
music of healing and songs of rebirth
to all of the creatures in all of the earth:
"god bless the rain, and the storm clouds that bring it.
god bless the music, and the voices that sing it.
god bless the ones who sing everything wrong.
god bless the creatures who do not belong.
god bless the hearts and the souls who are grieving
for those who have left, and for those who are leaving.
god bless each perishing body and mind,
god bless all creatures remaining behind.
god bless the dreamers whose dreams have awoken.
god bless the lovers whose hearts have been broken.
god bless each soul that is tortured and taunted,
god bless all creatures alone and unwanted."
And the gargoyles beheld wherever they roamed
that the souls of the lost weren't really alone.
each one had an angel, each one was protected,
and each one was cherished and loved and respected.
And so it is true with the gargoyles this day,
for all of the angels who love them have stayed.
and together they wait until days become nights,
to embark on their dark and most glorious flights.
so if you see shapes in the night sky, don't fear --
for it simply means angels and gargoyles are near,
easing the earth with their gentle night call:
god bless the gargoyles. god bless us all."
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