Gargoyles have been a part of history and architecture since the early days of the ancient Greek and Egyptian empires and are most commonly associated with medieval lore. Though gargoyles often have a fearsome appearance, their use is thought to be far more altruistic. The power to ward off evil spirits is a significant part of the mythological explanation surrounding gargoyles. Many Greek gargoyles are very often seen as happy or jolly characters and are often seen mounted on the parapets of many public buildings or spewing water as part of a public fountain.
Garden Gargoyles are the ‘cutest’ ugly things you can put in your garden landscaping to add charm and beauty to your garden. Some of the earliest known forms of gargoyles have been found in ancient Roman and Greek ruins and were made of terracotta. As time passed on, these figures were carved of wood, with a complete shift to stone by the 13th century.
Gargoyles were created as waterspouts and drains to keep rain water from damaging the foundation of buildings. The term gargoyle, comes from the Latin gurgulio, and the Old French gargouille, not only meaning “throat” but also describing the “gurgling” sound made by water as it ran through the figure. Superstition held that gargoyles frightened away evil spirits while serving their practical function. In the sixteenth century, after the lead drainpipe was introduced, gargoyles primarily served a decorative function.
Although most have exaggerated and scary features, the term gargoyle has come to include all types of figures. Some gargoyles were depicted as monks, gnomes, dragons and combinations of real animals and people, many of which were humorous. Unusual animal mixtures, or chimeras, did not act as waterspouts and are more properly called grotesques. They serve more as ornamentation, but are now synonymous with gargoyles.
Many gargoyles take the shape of animals, especially reptiles. Often dragon like in appearance, their gaze was usually facing down from the structure. In mythology and lore, dragons were thought to be the guardians of sacred places or great treasure troves, greatly contrasting with the more popular view of dragons as fierce and fire breathing creatures. Other animals such as birds of prey or the mythical Roc were the inspiration for many gargoyle figures.
The history and lore of garden gargoyle figures takes many forms. Garden gargoyles may represent combinations of human and animal forms sometimes taking on the appearance of hooded monks and friars. Just as they may be used to ward off evil, they were thought to have other uses, such as avoiding the wages of sin as well as be a powerful force used to keep people from straying into a life of eternal damnation. It is thought by some historians that garden gargoyles may have been placed in prominent view to remind people that Satan, or other supposed forces of evil, were all about and these areas should be avoided.
Since many gargoyles appear with wings, they may very well have been the inspiration for the flying monkey characters seen in the movie the Wizard of Oz. Many dragons of myth were often depicted with wings and were though to be capable of flight, reflecting the myth of flying gargoyles. From the funny to the frightening, many other modern day film and cartoon monsters have been patterned from these legendary winged figures.
Whether collectors of garden gargoyles are seeking redemption is certainly open to debate. Gargoyles do appear in many pieces of medieval artwork. They can often be quite scary in appearance and could be used to frighten away superstitious people. Given the wide variety of garden gargoyle shapes, many collectors may have more of an artistic motivation to maintaining their collections.
Today, garden gargoyle figures stand vigil as yard ornaments, water fountains and various types of outdoor statuary. Even though warding off evil spirits may not be in your garden decorating plans, some interior design schemes can also benefit from the addition of gargoyles. Garden gargoyles make the perfect the perfect gift for fans of medieval mythology and religious history.