My recent foray into the document folder turned up bits of writing from one of my favorite blog events from Aprils past –the A to Z Challenge. They’re pretty interesting, if I do say so myself. I’ll be sharing a few until life quiets down around here. I hope you enjoy. Scroll back to read earlier From The Stacks posts.
G for Gargoyles & Grotesques
Mention gargoyles and I think of those stoic winged sentinels on the lofty centuries-old architectural corners in Notre Dame cathedral. Why? Got me. Either Victor Hugo planted the image in my head with his novel Hunchback of Notre Dame, or it’s the fact there are 5000 Gargoyles and Grotesques all over the cathedral. 5000! Along with the architectural marvel of flying buttresses, I find that number pretty astounding. I believe most of the grotesques are found in the gallery. The gargoyles are mostly on the façade waiting for rain and quietly monitoring the comings and goings of Paris.
The name Gargoyle comes from gurgulio; Latin for gurgle. I assume the rainwater funneling through them off the roof makes a sound. Such water spouts were a regular feature in Ancient Greece and Rome and later in the Gothic constructions found throughout Europe. Some pour rainwater from their mouths, others from their backsides. But then they are demons and monsters. The idea was the gargoyles jutted far from the roof to prevent water from eroding the structure foundations. The more gargoyles, the less damage to any one section.
As for the symbolism on the necessary drainage, long-necked griffins, demons, and monsters are popular themes. I’ve read two lines of thought regarding the sculptures — they remind the populace that demons abound or they keep genuine evil away from the churches. Perhaps it was simply artistic license. Whichever they were, they were essential to the ostentatious glory that epitomized medieval church construction. Such outward abundance was necessary. Before Gutenberg’s press put knowledge into the hands of the common man, elaborate façades visually told stories of heaven and hell to the ignorant. To the Renaissance Humanists, such symbolism represented the world turned upside down, where monsters didn’t guard the church, they guarded the world from the monsters within. (Remember, the Renaissance had the Inquisition. And that’s a post for another day.) Gargoyles gained a new popularity in the Victorian Gothic Revival of the mid-1800’s.
If it isn’t a water spout, it’s not a gargoyle, it’s a grotesque.
People often confuse gargoyles with grotesques. Those twisted faces, beasts, and Chimeras that are either decorative (that does sound rather odd) or they serve a purpose such as a capital (column topper) or corbel (weight support). Even the jovial faces of Bacchus and the lovely caryatids, those goddess-like women supporting the roof line, fall under the grotesque category.
The more you study gargoyles and grotesques, the clearer their themes become. In fact, you’ll see the remnants of European paganism. One of the happier pagan figures is the overtly sexual Sheelagh-na-Gig.
Here’s an interactive gargoyle map in Washington DC National Cathedral. There’s actually a Darth Vader grotesque up on the roof somewhere. The USA has other sites featuring these interesting sculptures. Look to older buildings and you might see the grotesques. Given their downspout task, the gargoyles might be harder to find. This list will get you started in the USA:
University of Chicago & the Tribune Tower
New York’s Woolworth Building & Chrysler Building
The Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Arizona
Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York
San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral
University of Pennsylvania, Pittsburgh’s Calvary United Methodist,
& First Presbyterian Churches
Princeton University in New Jersey
The First Baptist Church, Lauderdale Street in Selma, Alabama
G for Gobekli Tepe.
In the 1960s, Turkish and American anthropologists surveyed the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey. In a land studded with history, they came upon limestone slabs jutting a few inches out of the ground and at a glance determined they were Byzantine grave markers. In other words, just another historical site in an area full of archeological sites.
In 1994, Klaus Schmidt of the German Archaeological Institute of Istanbul read the initial findings. Visiting the site, he recognized something much older. The simple limestone-slab “Byzantine grave markers” turned out to be the very tops of intricately carved pillars, some standing 10 feet tall. Today this Neolithic site is called Gobekli Tepe and its discovery has rocked the known history of civilization off its comfortable foundation.
Believed to be a temple built long before the wheel was invented, Gobekli Tepe is at least 14,000 years old – older than the oldest structures in Egypt, older than Stonehenge, and older than agriculture. The most puzzling piece of information – the site was intentionally buried! That’s more than 30 acres of monuments intentionally covered under one basketful of dirt at a time. Just imagine the scope of that undertaking.
I’ve been following the story since it came to light in the 1990’s. As an author, this mystery certainly speaks to me. New information arises as more of this deliberately hidden site is excavated. It’s definitely news worth following. You can start with these:
Today is Author Cara Marsi’s blog day. http://romancebooks4us.blogspot.com/
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