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Gargouille, also known as gargoyle, is a type of decorative waterspout that has been used in architecture for centuries. The word “gargoyle” comes from the French word “gargouille,” which means “throat,” and refers to the sound of water flowing through the spout. These ornamental features were originally used on Gothic cathedrals and other buildings to help drain rainwater away from the roof and prevent damage to the structure.

According to legend, the first gargoyle was actually a monster called the gargouille that terrorized the town of Rouen, France. The creature was said to have a long, serpent-like neck, wings, and the ability to breathe fire. The town’s bishop, St. Romanus, is said to have defeated the monster by making the sign of the cross and taming it with a leash. The gargoyle became a symbol of St. Romanus and was used to decorate the town’s cathedral.

Historical Origins

Medieval Legends

Gargouille is a legendary monster that is said to have terrorized the town of Rouen in Normandy, France during the 7th century. According to the legend, the monster was a dragon with bat-like wings, a long neck, and a fearsome roar. It was said to have breathed fire and water, and to have devoured humans and livestock alike. The townspeople were terrified of the monster and prayed for help.

The legend goes that a Christian bishop named Saint Romanus came to the town and offered to slay the monster. He went to the riverbank where the monster lived and made the sign of the cross. The monster emerged from the water and attacked him, but Saint Romanus subdued it with holy water and a crucifix. He then led the monster back to the town, where the people burned it at the stake.

Architectural Significance

The legend of Gargouille is significant in the history of architecture because it is believed to have inspired the creation of gargoyles. Gargoyles are decorative sculptures that are often found on the roofs and walls of Gothic buildings, particularly churches and cathedrals. They are usually carved in the form of grotesque creatures, such as dragons, demons, and animals.

Gargoyles serve a practical purpose as well as an aesthetic one. They are designed to channel rainwater away from the walls of the building, preventing erosion and water damage. The water flows through the gargoyle’s mouth and out of its spout, creating a dramatic visual effect.

In conclusion, the legend of Gargouille is an important part of medieval folklore and architectural history. The story of Saint Romanus and the monster has inspired countless works of art and literature, and the image of the gargoyle has become an iconic symbol of Gothic architecture.

Design and Features

Gothic Architecture

Gargouilles are an architectural feature that originated in Gothic architecture, which was prevalent in Europe during the 12th to 16th centuries. Gothic architecture is characterized by its pointed arches, ribbed vaults, and flying buttresses. The gargouilles were often placed on the roofs of Gothic buildings and served both a functional and decorative purpose.

Water Spout Function

The primary function of the gargouilles was to serve as water spouts. They were designed to direct rainwater away from the roof and walls of the building, preventing water damage and erosion. The gargouilles were typically carved with a spout that protruded from the mouth of a grotesque creature, such as a dragon or gargoyle.

The gargouilles were often placed in groups on the roof of a building to divide the flow of rainwater and minimize potential damage. The water would flow through the spout and be directed away from the building, preventing it from running down the walls and eroding the mortar between the stones.

In addition to their functional purpose, gargouilles were also used as decorative elements on Gothic buildings. They were often carved with intricate details and grotesque features, such as horns, wings, and fangs. The gargouilles were intended to frighten and ward off evil spirits, and were believed to have protective powers.

Cultural Impact

Literature and Folklore

Gargoyles have been a part of human culture for centuries, often appearing in literature and folklore. In French folklore, there is a story of a creature called Gargouille, which terrorized the town of Rouen. According to the legend, the creature was eventually captured by a Christian saint and subdued. The story of Gargouille has been retold in various forms, including in Victor Hugo’s novel “The Hunchback of Notre Dame,” which features gargoyles as prominent characters.

In addition to French folklore, gargoyles have also appeared in other cultures. In ancient Egypt, for example, statues of the god Bes were sometimes designed with grotesque features and served a similar function to gargoyles, warding off evil spirits.

Modern Depictions

In modern times, gargoyles have become a popular subject in various forms of media, including movies, television shows, and video games. One of the most well-known depictions of gargoyles is in the animated series “Gargoyles,” which aired in the 1990s. The show featured a group of gargoyles who protect New York City from various threats.

Gargoyles have also been used as a decorative element in architecture and design. Many modern buildings feature gargoyles, often as a nod to the tradition of using them as a functional element in Gothic architecture. Some designers have even created gargoyle-inspired furniture and home decor, which can add a touch of Gothic style to any home.

Geographic Distribution


Gargoyles are most famously associated with France, where they can be found on many Gothic buildings, particularly on the famous Notre-Dame de Paris. The French word for gargoyle, “gargouille,” is derived from the Latin word “gurgulio,” meaning “throat.” In France, gargoyles were not only used as decorative elements but also had a practical purpose. They were designed to channel rainwater away from the roofs of buildings and prevent damage to the masonry.

International Presence

While gargoyles are most commonly associated with France, they can also be found on Gothic buildings around the world. In Poland, for example, the Vasa Chapel at Wawel Castle in Kraków features a gargoyle with a lion’s head. In Estonia, the Tallinn Town Hall boasts a dragon-headed gargoyle. Gargoyles can also be found on buildings in the United States, such as the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. and the Woolworth Building in New York City.

Overall, the distribution of gargoyles is closely tied to the spread of Gothic architecture. As Gothic architecture became more popular, gargoyles became a common feature of many buildings around the world. Today, they remain an enduring symbol of the Gothic style and continue to fascinate and intrigue people of all ages.

Conservation Efforts

Restoration Projects

The conservation efforts for the gargoyles have been ongoing for many years. Restoration projects have been implemented in order to preserve these unique and historical artifacts. The gargoyles of Notre Dame Cathedral, for example, have undergone extensive restoration following the devastating fire that occurred in 2019. The restoration project has been successful in preserving many of the gargoyles and other artifacts that were damaged in the fire.

Preservation Organizations

There are many organizations dedicated to the preservation of historical and cultural artifacts, including gargoyles. One of these organizations is the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). While the WWF is primarily known for its work in conservation and protection of wildlife, the organization has also been involved in the preservation of cultural artifacts. The WWF has worked with local communities and governments to protect and preserve cultural heritage sites, including those that feature gargoyles.

Another organization that has been involved in the preservation of gargoyles is The Nature Conservancy. The organization has worked to protect and preserve natural habitats and wildlife, and has also been involved in the preservation of cultural and historical artifacts. The Nature Conservancy has supported restoration projects for gargoyles and other artifacts, and has worked to raise awareness about the importance of preserving these unique and valuable cultural treasures.

Overall, the conservation efforts for gargoyles have been successful in preserving these unique and historical artifacts for future generations to enjoy. Through restoration projects and the work of preservation organizations, these cultural treasures will continue to be protected and preserved for many years to come.

Artistic Interpretations

Sculpture and Carving

Gargoyles have been a popular subject for sculptors and carvers throughout history. They were often used as decorative elements on buildings, and their grotesque appearance made them perfect for adding a touch of drama and intrigue to architectural designs. Many famous sculptors have created gargoyles, including Auguste Rodin, who created a series of gargoyle sculptures in the late 1800s.

One of the most famous gargoyle sculptures is the “Gargouille” in Rouen, France. This gargoyle is said to have inspired the legend of the dragon-like creature that terrorized the town and demanded a sacrifice of a virgin maiden. The sculpture is now a popular tourist attraction, and visitors can climb to the top of the cathedral to get a closer look at the fearsome creature.

Contemporary Art

In recent years, artists have continued to be inspired by the gargoyle. Many contemporary artists have created their own interpretations of the creature, often using modern materials and techniques. Some artists have even created gargoyle-inspired jewelry and fashion accessories.

One notable example of contemporary gargoyle art is the work of artist Tom Otterness. Otterness creates whimsical sculptures that often feature gargoyle-like creatures. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, and he is known for his playful and imaginative approach to art.

Overall, the gargoyle has proven to be a popular subject for artists throughout history. Whether in sculpture or contemporary art, the gargoyle’s unique appearance and rich history continue to inspire creativity and imagination.