In architecture, a gargoyle is a carved stone grotesque with a spout designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of a building. Preventing rainwater from running down masonry walls is important because running water erodes the mortar between the stone blocks. 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 fantastic animal because the length of the gargoyle determines how far water is thrown 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, originally "throat" or "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., Spanish garganta, "throat"; Spanish gárgola, "gargoyle"). It is also connected to the French verb gargariser, which means "to gargle." The Italian word for gargoyle is doccione o gronda sporgente, an architecturally precise phrase which means "protruding gutter." The German word for gargoyle is Wasserspeier, which means "water spewer." The Dutch word for gargoyle is waterspuwer, which means "water spitter" or "water vomiter." A building that has gargoyles on it is "gargoyled."
A grotesque figure is a sculpture that does not work as a waterspout and serves only an ornamental or artistic function. These are also usually called gargoyles in layman's terminology, although the field of architecture usually preserves the distinction between gargoyles (functional waterspouts) and non-waterspout grotesques.
Gargoyles are said to scare off and protect from any evil or harmful spirits.
Legend of La Gargouille
A French legend that sprang up around the name of St. Romanus ("Romain") (AD 631–641), 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 batlike wings, a long neck, and the ability to breathe fire from its mouth. There are multiple versions of the story, 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 lead back to Rouen and burned, but its head and neck would not, 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 (see details at Rouen).
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