The use of gargoyle statues as decorative garden ornaments has gained in popularity in recent years.
Originally designed as an architectural element in Medieval times, gargoyles were elaborate waterspouts taking the form of elongated fantastic animal or human-like forms that prevented rain water from running down masonry walls and eroding the mortar. As time went on gargoyles became purely ornamental and are better know as “grotesques”.
Multitudes of grotesque gargoyles decorated the medieval buildings of western Europe, peering down on the passers by from churches, cathedrals, houses and town halls. It is believed that the frightening nature of gargoyles was partly due to the medieval artist’s responsibility to mold public behaviour through intimidating images. They served as a moralistic reminder of what can happen to sinners, acting as a kind of “sermon in stone” to a largely illiterate Pagan population.
It was also believed that gargoyles offered protection from evil spirits, demons and the devil. Winged gargoyles could apparently come to life at night and would fly around the town warding of evil, protecting the church and the towns folk from harm. Many people use gargoyle statues in their houses and gardens today, placed strategically near the front of the home to act as a guardian, offering protection to their home and loved ones.
Not all gargoyle statues in the Middle Ages were frightening in nature though. Many gargoyles appeared more comical in appearance with amusing facial expressions or contorted bodies, while others could be considered as crude or bawdy. It appears that gargoyles also provided a popular form of entertainment long before the monsters of modern day movies.
Gargoyle statues are still carved today. Their ongoing history appears to be linked to the fact that the macabre continues to exert a powerful magnetism. We humans are attracted to the monstrous, the lurid and the improbable. We are lured by creatures unknown or unknowable, the inhabitants of our nightmares that the mind believes (or hopes!) do not exist. This is particularly evident in the current popularity of horror films and video games where the creators of media monsters seem to compete to create increasingly graphic forms of fright.
Gargoyles appeal to the deep-rooted needs in human nature. They embody images from our subconscious, like part of our inner personality given a visual form. The enduring nature of these creatures may lie in the fact they can be both repulsive and attractive at the same time. The monstrous, the novel and even the offensive do have an odd allure.
Gargoyles appeal to both our imagination and subconscious. These fantastic creatures do not conform to the “norm” for any one known species. Medieval artists often combined features of different animals, both real animals and mythical beasts, with human or demon-like forms. Gargoyles appear to take on our human characteristics and change them into exaggerated forms, often reflecting aspects of our own personalities along with the human qualities of imagination, creativity and humour.
Today we can use grotesque gargoyle statues to add an element of shock or surprise to our garden design. The amusing gargoyles can be used to promote laughter and add a sense of fun while the more whimsical creatures create a sense of serenity. These ancient creatures add a timeless feel to any garden, linking it to the past and transporting our visitors back in time to medieval Europe.