If you’ve ever looked up high on the sides of an old gothic building you might have caught a glimpse of a wonderful set of monsters!
Gargoyles! You’ll never guess what their name means. Read on, dear reader, read on:
In architecture, a gargoyle is a carved or formed grotesque with a spout designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of a building, thereby preventing rainwater from running down masonry walls and eroding the mortar between. Architects often used multiple gargoyles on buildings to divide the flow of rainwater off the roof to minimize the potential damage from a rainstorm. A trough is cut in the back of the gargoyle and rainwater typically exits through the open mouth. Gargoyles are usually an elongated fantastical animal because the length of the gargoyle determines how far water is directed from the wall. When Gothic flying buttresses were used, aqueducts were sometimes cut into the buttress to divert water over the aisle walls.
The term originates from the French gargouille, which in English is likely to mean “throat” or is otherwise known as the “gullet”; cf. Latin gurgulio, gula, gargula (“gullet” or “throat”) and similar words derived from the root gar, “to swallow”, which represented the gurgling sound of water (e.g., Portuguese and Spanish garganta, “throat”; gárgola, “gargoyle”). It is also connected to the French verb gargariser, which shares a Latin root with the verb “gargle” and is likely imitative in origin. The Italian word for gargoyle is doccione or gronda sporgente, (but also gargolla o garguglia, when it has a grotesque shape) an architecturally precise phrase which means “protruding gutter.”
Legend of the Gargouille
A French legend that sprang up around the name of St. Romanus (French: Romain; fl. c. 631 – 641 AD), the former chancellor of the Merovingian king Clotaire II who was made bishop of Rouen, relates how he delivered the country around Rouen from a monster called Gargouille or Goji. La Gargouille is said to have been the typical dragon with bat-like wings, a long neck, and the ability to breathe fire from its mouth. Multiple versions of the story are given, either that St. Romanus subdued the creature with a crucifix, or he captured the creature with the help of the only volunteer, a condemned man. In each, the monster is led back to Rouen and burned, but its head and neck would not burn due to being tempered by its own fire breath. The head was then mounted on the walls of the newly built church to scare off evil spirits, and used for protection. In commemoration of St. Romain, the Archbishops of Rouen were granted the right to set a prisoner free on the day that the reliquary of the saint was carried in procession.
So, the next time you’re looking to “gargle” in the bathroom, don’t forget how closely you resemble our monster friends, the Gargoyle!