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Gargoyles are more than just scary sculptures on buildings


Image courtesy LoggaWiggler/Pixabay

You may have seen stone statues on the outside of buildings that seem to be gazing down at you. But just what are these stone creatures and why are they up there? Find out the facts about gargoyles.

Silhouette right. Silhouette of a gargoyle.Gargoyles are stone statues that are attached to buildings. But they are more than just a decoration.

Gargoyles are waterspouts that help rainwater flow away from a building’s walls. They’re carved from a block of solid stone, usually granite.

What’s the difference between a gargoyle and a grotesque?

Grotesque on Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France.
This bored-looking grotesque overlooks the streets of Paris from the Notre Dame Cathedral. tdfugere/Pixabay

A gargoyle is used as a waterspout. But a stone figure that’s on a building just for decoration is called a grotesque. They are much more common than gargoyles.

Just remember that gargoyles usually have an open mouth to help drain away rainwater.

How do they work?

Gargoyle statue
This gargoyle is on the Saint-Jacques Tower in Paris, France. Miguel Medina/Getty Images

A groove is cut along the top of the statue. That way, when rain falls, it travels along this groove and falls through the gargoyle’s open mouth onto the roads below. Keeping the rain away from a building protects its stone walls, so they don’t start to wear away.

A 13th century gargoyle found in Kayseri, Turkey.

Who invented them?

It’s hard to know for sure. But the oldest gargoyle is found on a building in Turkey. It’s 13,000 years old and looks like a crocodile.

The ancient Egyptians, Romans and Greeks also carved gargoyles to use as drain spouts on their buildings.

And gargoyles became very popular on churches in Europe during the 1200s.

Why aren’t gargoyles used very much today?

Looking up at a gargoyle.
Looking up at a gargoyle on St. Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna, Austria. Photo by ccarlstead licensed CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

After the 1700s, gargoyles became much less common on buildings. That’s because modern drain pipes were developed, so gargoyles weren’t needed to help with the flow of rainwater.

What creatures can gargoyles look like?

Human gargoyle on St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic.
This human-looking gargoyle can be found at St. Vitus Cathedral in Prague, Czech Republic. Photo by Vin Crosbie licensed CC BY-ND 2.0

Gargoyles look like all kinds of creatures, including animals, dragons and strange, imaginary monsters. Some gargoyles are even made to look like humans. In these cases, the statues were often carved to look like the priests or church elders who were found at a church during that time.

Why do gargoyles always look so angry?

Angry gargoyle
Are they scaring away evil spirits or are they reminding people to go to church? Experts are divided. Tomasz_Mikolajczyk/Pixabay

Experts aren’t sure why so many gargoyles were carved to look angry and fierce. But they do have a couple of ideas. Some think that the gargoyles’ angry faces were meant to scare away evil spirits and protect the building. Others think that scary gargoyles were placed on churches to remind people that there is evil in the world, so they should enter the church often and live a good life.