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.