Mae Clair’s Mythical Monday: Gargoyles

A winged guardian frozen
in stone masquerade,
sentinel of antiquity
as centuries fade.

Happy Labor Day everyone! I hope you’re enjoying a restful day filled with relaxation and play.

My Mythical Monday question for the day: what does the word gargoyle inspire in your imagination? A hideous mythical beast, or an ornamental (albeit, usually grotesque) stone carving jutting from a cathedral rooftop?

I almost didn’t do an MM post today because of the holiday, but then decided to go with something that made me think of toil. Yeah, I know it’s a leap. Why a gargoyle? Well, they’re lumbering and, in structural use, serve a purpose relating to the drainage system in buildings. Okay, mostly gothic looking structures that have been around for eons but you have to admit they’re amazing. And yes, they are a referred to many times as ‘grotesques.’

Gargoyles were especially prominent in medieval times when they were used to adorn buildings, usually churches and cathedrals, to repel the forces of evil.  So how did the practice develop?

According to legend, a dragon named LaGarougille decided to make the town of Rouen, France his personal feeding ground during the seventh century. Naturally, the villagers took exception to this. You would too if you suddenly found yourself the ala carte menu item of the day (I’ll take the blacksmith grilled with a side of steamed farrier to go). Ugh! Actually it was virginal maidens who were most commonly offered as sacrificial fodder. Aren’t they always?

Fortunately, a priest (later known as St. Romanis) arrived around the same time to spread Christianity. He slew the dragon and the villagers gleefully set its body on fire. Imagine the celebration! When the head and neck wouldn’t burn, St. Romanis had them placed on the roof of his church as a warning to other forces of evil. Afterward, gargoyles were constructed to protect dwellings from malevolent spirits, much in the same way the head and neck of LaGarougille was a symbol of protection for the villagers of Rouen.

Other legends paint gargoyles as souls who became trapped in stone on their journey to the nether world. My first exposure to this mythical beast was a movie I saw when I was kid. I can’t remember the name, but I have vague memories of shadowy hulking beasts stalking unsuspecting travelers on a deserted roadway. I was mesmerized, finding the gargoyles terrifying but fascinating. I’m sure I had nightmares when I went to bed. Be that as it may, I was beguiled by the myth and had to learn more. Imagine my surprise when I discovered the purpose of these monstrous creatures was to protect others. Sometimes the trappings of myth are not at all what you’d expect.

To close, I wish you a happy Labor Day and am sending along gargoyle-wishes to ward off any and all circumstances that aren’t exactly as you desire.  Unlike many of us, gargoyles don’t get a break from working on this holiday.

14 thoughts on “Mae Clair’s Mythical Monday: Gargoyles

  1. And people wonder why pretty young girls are so quick to give up their virginity….pfft! Contrary to popular belief that some pretty faced man is the cause, it is, in fact, self preservation. Think about it. In horror movies, the villain often fixates on them. Whenever dragons or other scary things that go bump in the night need to be appeased, they’re the first ones to be sent. Let’s not forget that in fairy tales, even as their princes are coming, some scary and powerful witch is doing her darnedest to take her out! ;-). (And no, this is not me encouraging promiscuity. Your post just made me think of the history of virgins.)

    As for Gargoyles…LOVE them. Of course having watched that Disney cartoon with my little brother when we were kids, I see them as strong protectors of good, if a little scary looking. Of course in the cartoon, they were made of stone and came to life at night. 🙂

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    • I agree with you, Kitt — throughout fairytales, literature and myth, virgins were always the ones being offered up to appease some nasty beastie or wicked creature. The same with many horror movies. I guess its that beguilement of innocence villains crave.

      Now that you mention the Disney cartoon, I have heard of it. Never saw it though. It sounds like fun! I think in the movie I saw so many moons ago, the gargoyles came to life at night too. What better time to mask tha change from stone to life?

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  2. “Actually it was virginal maidens who were most commonly offered as sacrificial fodder. Aren’t they always?”

    Makes a good case for being ye olde towne slattern, yes? 🙂
    I love gargoyles and all those awfully-done B movies about off-kilter mythological creatures (you know, the ones we don’t see that often).

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    • I enjoy a good B-movie too, especially during the summer. My husband and I will often turn on the Syfy channel and have a ball watching some creature gobble up unsuspecting townspeople. It’s fun on a Saturday afternoon when we’re outside on our covered porch (we have a TV there).

      And yeah, you’d think all those virgins would join together and wizen up!

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    • I love gothic and Victorian architecture. It’s so moody, often brooding. I also have a love of farmhouses and cottages. I think a lot of modern design in building and homes misses those elements that bridge centuries. And this is coming from someone who spends her weekdays writing marketing copy for real estate, LOL! Happy Labor Day, L.J.!

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  3. Happy Labor Day, Mae! So glad you decided to do a post today. Without the slightest notion of it, you have lifted my creative spirits, and protected them; I’m highly grateful as they have been in the tank of late.

    Very interesting post. I learn something new with each one you do. You’ve inspired me; with my love of Halloween and the Holiday lurking just around the corner, and the creepy feel that my blog already carries, I should be doing more with it than just Six Sentence Sunday and snippets of my meager novel and short story writing.

    I love your MM posts, look forward to them every week.

    Have a wonderful day, Mae!

    M.L.

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    • Sorry to hear your creative spirit has been on the wane of late, M.L., but I’m thrilled my simple post helped get you back on track. 🙂 I love doing Mythical Monday posts, so it’s wonderful to hear you enjoy them each week!

      Yes, we’re moving into fall…smoky brooding weather intertwined with vibrant colors and scents. So much you could do! And as October looms nearer…remember that story you told me about when you were a kid riding your bike and passed a cemetery at twilight? I won’t go into more detail because I think you could build an amazing blog post around that as the season heads toward Halloween. Goosebump time, M.L.! 🙂

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  4. Pingback: Gargoyle scary | Yourkenoinfo

  5. Pingback: Friendship, History and Howling At The Moon | theinnerwildkat

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