Gargoyles, as I think I have mentioned before are grotesquely carved figures, sometimes humorous, of people or animals; they can be found on the side of buildings such as cathedrals and churches. They are not just decorative and or fun, they have a purpose. Within the gaping mouth is a pipe which leads from a gutter and acts as a way of and they are spurting rain water away from the building, so it doesn’t settle or seep or cause damp or flooding. Imagine the size of some of the roofs on huge buildings, they would collect an enormous amount of rain which could cause damage to the building. The word comes from the old French for throat or gullet, gargoule or gargouille and it was when Old French wasn’t old, but just French in the early middle ages that many of these cathedrals, castles and other massive buildings were being built. The Old English speaking builders would have called it a gargoule when instructing their craftsmen to carve them.
This poor chap is having his cheeks clawed or bitten by some sort of beast. He has a very realistic face, he himself is not ugly, it’s his expression that is distorting his features, so I wonder if it is based on a real person, a real person who gave the stone mason a hard time?
There is also an idea that the ugly features may have frightened or warded off evil spirits, guarding and protecting those within the building, a superstition which is not exactly Christian, but much older. The idea of having a creature’s head at the end of a waterspout is not new, however, and not just associated with medieval buildings; it goes back to the times of the Ancient Egyptians and Ancient Greeks.
These gargoyles are on Salisbury Cathedral; there was a new one put in place in 2012, the first for 150 years: