Glenn Russell's Reviews > Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings

Holy Terrors by Janetta Rebold Benton
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it was amazing




This little art book includes over 100 photos of gargoyles taken by the author herself, Janetta Rebold Benton, specialist in medieval art, which adds a real visual flare to the book’s four chapters: the first chapter a clear, concise overview of gargoyles and then three chapters with more specifics on human gargoyles, animal gargoyles and grotesque gargoyles. What a treat for absolutely anybody interested in medieval culture or art or exploring the wonder and feats of the human imagination.

And what exactly is a gargoyle? As the author explains, this stone creature is an elaborate waterspout constructed for the purpose of diverting rainwater from running down walls and eroding mortar; rather, the water is carried along a trough cut the length of the gargoyle back and then out the gargoyle mouth facilitating the water being thrown clear of the wall. The medieval gargoyles began appearing as part of the construction of cathedrals during the 1200s and continued their function on cathedrals and other church owned buildings right up until the late 1500s. They were made on the ground, usually out of limestone or marble, by stone carvers using mallet, chisel and file and then hoisted into place via a system of pulleys.



And why were gargoyles carved with such distorted or grotesque features? Professor Benton notes that since there isn’t really any written documentation detailing the theory and practice of creating gargoyles, many of our answers will be conjecture, however, we do know much about medieval religion and the western European medieval worldview, a worldview preoccupied with sin, salvation and the eternal fate of the soul. Thus, the artist had a responsibility to use their art to instruct and guide the public’s attitude and behavior. As we read, “Perhaps grotesque gargoyles were intended as guardians of the church, magic signs to ward off the devil. This interpretation would justify making a gargoyle as ugly as possible, as a sort of sacred scarecrow to frighten the devil away . . . Or perhaps gargoyles were themselves symbols of the evil forces – such as temptations and sins – lurking outside the sanctuary of the church.”



But the author adds, “Not all gargoyles were intended to frighten, reprimand, or threaten; some appear to have been intended to serve purposes not sacred but profane. Rather than inspiring dread, perhaps they were intended to amuse. Gargoyles may have been regarded as a form of popular entertainment." Sidebar: our author explains how a number of the stone creatures of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, as this one below, are commonly viewed as gargoyles but since they are not waterspouts, they are more accurately termed grotesques.



What I personally find so fascinating about gargoyles is what they signified for the actual medieval artists, well-trained craftsmen who could let their imaginations soar well beyond any fixed rules set down by the church. The creation of gargoyles was one area, similar to the creatures drawn in the margins of medieval manuscripts, that was uncensored by authorities and where the very human capacity to imagine and express itself in all its breathtaking and bizarre, stunning and whacky, fabulous and weird fullness became manifest, which, in a way, was the ultimate breath of artistic freedom in the medieval world. Where these creatures demons from the subconscious dream world or from the unseen realms of the imagination? Or, where they perhaps created out of a simple sense of making something very personal to display for one’s fellow artists and others? Probably a little of each of these reasons and then some, but whatever the reasons, these grotesque waterspouts, like the mouth-puller below, make for fascinating, captivating, beguiling, mind-blowing viewing.



A special thanks to Goodreads friend Pramod for suggesting this book to me.
One final note: You will have to look at the author’s book itself to see her outstanding photos as they are not available on the web. The pics I included above are my favorite gargoyles from those I found via a Goggle search.
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Reading Progress

Finished Reading
October 26, 2015 – Shelved

Comments Showing 1-50 of 57 (57 new)


message 1: by Pramod (new) - added it

Pramod Nair :) Excellent, Glenn. An interesting thought that always puzzled me is this: Like these gargoyles in the medieval buildings, here in the South Indian temple architecture dating back centuries, we can find numerous examples of such fiery monster or dragon like figures used as either waterspouts or as corner pieces on the roof structures. What architectural school of thoughts connects them both is worth researching i think...


message 2: by Lynne (new)

Lynne King Well Glenn this is an excellent review and I especially love the images.

Gargoyles have always fascinated me!

The last sentence in Pramod's comment is rather interesting too.


message 3: by Glenn (last edited Oct 27, 2015 02:28AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Glenn Russell Pramod wrote: ":) Excellent, Glenn. An interesting thought that always puzzled me is this: Like these gargoyles in the medieval buildings, here in the South Indian temple architecture dating back centuries, we ca..."

Thanks, Pramod.

Yes,that connection between South Indian architecture and Medieval European architecture is a fascinating one. I wasn't able to locate any articles on the web that made this connection directly but considering the usage of the silk road and cross-cultural sharing and influences going back to Alexander the Great, I would think perceptive craftspeople would be very happy to pick up tips and techniques, like waterspouts, that work. And regarding those grotesque, striking creatures appearing in both cultures, we could turn to, among others, Carol Jung and his outlining the collective unconscious. Ultimately, we all share the same human nature and human experience. And, I think, stone carvers the world over have much in common - keen skill, a desire to set their imagination free as they carve and incorporate details that will make their creations anything but bland.


Glenn Russell Lynne wrote: "Well Glenn this is an excellent review and I especially love the images.

Gargoyles have always fascinated me!

The last sentence in Pramod's comment is rather interesting too."


Thanks so much, Lynne. I tried not to be too wordy in my review here so as to let the gargoyles speak for themselves.


message 5: by Seemita (new)

Seemita What a fantastic, revealing review, Glenn! Fascinating that you prodded on the fearful and intimidating appearances of gargoyles; perhaps, it was a way of shaming rather than glorifying the times they were witness to.


Glenn Russell Seemita wrote: "What a fantastic, revealing review, Glenn! Fascinating that you prodded on the fearful and intimidating appearances of gargoyles; perhaps, it was a way of shaming rather than glorifying the times t..."

Thanks, Seemita. Although I am not a big fan of a religion and culture putting such an emphasis on sin and hell fire, I am a fan of artistic imagination that, on some level, links with the fantastic, bizarre and, yes, even grotesque images bubbling up from our collective unconscious. Thus, I love much medieval art, especially these stone creatures.


message 7: by Pramod (new) - added it

Pramod Nair Glenn wrote: "Pramod wrote: ":) Excellent, Glenn. An interesting thought that always puzzled me is this: Like these gargoyles in the medieval buildings, here in the South Indian temple architecture dating back c..."

:) I am about half way through the book. So will try to come up with a review covering some of the similar elements from the Indian architecture.

And regarding those grotesque, striking creatures appearing in both cultures, we could turn to, among others, Carol Jung and his outlining the collective unconscious. Ultimately, we all share the same human nature and human experience. And, I think, stone carvers the world over have much in common - keen skill, a desire to set their imagination free as they carve and incorporate details that will make their creations anything but bland.


That is a fascinating observation...


message 8: by [deleted user] (new)

Fascinating review, Glenn and fascinating discussion with Parmod. I only saw them in some of western movies and television; and always wondered whose idea it was to put them - especially since some of the buildings didn't at all seem old. Somehow I never tried to found out - I didn't even know they were waterspouts - always thought they were just for decorarion. Same with Indian sculptures.

Two random questions:

1. Are those sculptures always grotesque or can there be like angels too?

2. In what work Jung suggested idea of 'collective unconsciousness' (you have refered to it in at least one other review)?


Glenn Russell Thanks, Sidharth.

Not all gargoyles were grotesque, as for example this lion gargoyle below, however, as the author points out, gargoyles were nearly never bland or subtle. I've never seen, either in this book or on the web, an angel gargoyle. In a way, I can understand why - the stone carvers made enough angels and such when specifically directly by church authorities. Gargoyles were their big chance to create 'outside the box.'

The collective unconscious is one of the very key concepts in Jungian analysis. You can do a goggle search to get a quick overview of how Jung developed and applied his idea of the collective unconscious. As for a book, my top suggestion is his 'Man and His Symbols' - since it has many illustrations that are worth a 1000 words and also since it is usually available at libraries.
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1...


message 10: by Ted (new)

Ted Wonderful review Glenn. To comments 8 & 9 I would add that another excellent author who treated symbols and myths is Joseph Campbell. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_...

I'm thinking particularly of his four volume The Masks of God, which I must confess I've never read. But I hope to.


Glenn Russell Ted wrote: "Wonderful review Glenn. To comments 8 & 9 I would add that another excellent author who treated symbols and myths is Joseph Campbell. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_...

I'm thinking par..."


Thanks, Ted. Bulls-eye. Joseph Campbell and his The Power of Myth is one of my all-time favorites. As perhaps you know, he was much influenced by Jung.


message 12: by Ted (new)

Ted Glenn wrote: "Ted wrote: "Wonderful review Glenn. To comments 8 & 9 I would add that another excellent author who treated symbols and myths is Joseph Campbell. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_...

I'm ..."


I checked out the set I referred to, they all have many references to Jung, but Volume 4 (Creative Mythology) has by far the most.


Glenn Russell Ted wrote: "Glenn wrote: "Ted wrote: "Wonderful review Glenn. To comments 8 & 9 I would add that another excellent author who treated symbols and myths is Joseph Campbell. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_..."

Thanks. And, perhaps you are familiar, there is that amazing story of how Jung was Freud's key student but once Jung understood how large a role universal symbols and myths play in the human psyche, he made his radical break from his teacher.


message 14: by Ted (new)

Ted Glenn wrote: "Ted wrote: "Glenn wrote: "Ted wrote: "Wonderful review Glenn. To comments 8 & 9 I would add that another excellent author who treated symbols and myths is Joseph Campbell. https://en.wikipedia.org/..."

Interesting! Didn't know about that, but not surprising since I'm quite ignorant of both of them. Have unread books. 8{


message 15: by Peter (new) - added it

Peter Great review Glenn. Can you answer something for me?
In your review you talk of the origins of the Gargoyle, but not the words origin gargouille, which translates to english as "to gurgle" because of the noise the water made as it runs through. I find this missing from many book on gargoyles. Is it there?


Glenn Russell Marita wrote: "A delightful review and some lovely pictures. France is certainly a good place to see gargoyles."

Thanks, Marita. France would be great. Also, it is great we in the modern world benefit from telescopic photos - so in that way, we can see gargoyles in ways the medieval people couldn't. Irony of history.


message 17: by Peter (last edited Oct 27, 2015 03:17PM) (new) - added it

Peter Sidharth asked - Are those sculptures always grotesque or can there be like angels too?

No there cannot be. If memory serves me correctly the reason being it would be insulting to have an angel vomiting.


message 18: by Glenn (last edited Oct 27, 2015 03:33PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Glenn Russell Peter wrote: "Great review Glenn. Can you answer something for me?
In your review you talk of the origins of the Gargoyle, but not the words origin gargouille, which translates to english as "to gurgle" because ..."


Hey Peter, thanks for your question. The author does go into some detail about the origin of the word, noting:

Italian: Gronda sporgente - protruding gutter.

German: Wasserspeier - water spitter

Dutch: Waterspuwer - water vomiter

Spanish: Gargola - gullet or throat

French: Gargouille - gullet or throat

French: Gargariser - to gargle (most evocative of these terms and is the source of the English word gargoyle).

(apologies for lack of accent marks for some of these words).


message 19: by Peter (new) - added it

Peter Thanks Glenn. Glad it is in there, however in old british middle english it would seem it derived from the word gargouille around 1200 to 1260. if you listen to the two words side by side they do sound very similar. Back in a few minutes....... Just checked an episode of QI the info was sourced from the British Library and the Bodleian.


Glenn Russell Peter wrote: "Thanks Glenn. Glad it is in there, however in old british middle english it would seem it derived from the word gargouille around 1200 to 1260. if you listen to the two words side by side they do s..."

Thanks, Peter!


message 21: by Peter (new) - added it

Peter Looking forward to reading this. Thanks for the review.


message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

Peter wrote:
No there cannot be. If memory serves me correctly the reason being it would be insulting to have an angel vo..."


:) Now I feel stupid for having asked the question.

@ Glenn and Ted Thanks for the information


message 23: by Xandra (new)

Xandra I love this review! Thank you for writing it.


Glenn Russell Xandra wrote: "I love this review! Thank you for writing it."

My pleasure, Xandra!


message 25: by Glenn (last edited Oct 28, 2015 02:40PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Glenn Russell The author, Janetta Rebold Benton, took a look at this thread and has the following to say:

To my knowledge there are no gargoyles in the form of angels in western Europe. The best countries for gargoyle-hunting, generally speaking, are France and England. In regard to related waterspouts on buildings in India, the notion of a gutter that terminates in the form of a head, water issuing from the mouth, goes back at least to the Etruscan terracotta examples. I strongly suspect that there were earlier prototypes, no longer extant. In addition to the possibility of contact among cultures, I think that masons and sculptors with a sense of humor are likely to come up with related ideas in various rainy climates!

The gargoyle wanna-bes on Notre-Dame in Paris that do not spout water in the photo are the work of the later 19th-century French (over-)restorer, Eugene Viollet-le-Duc (1814-79).


message 26: by Peter (new) - added it

Peter Thanks for that info. Having a passion for gargoyle hunting here in the UK, there really are no Angels having climbed on roofs used very long zoom lenses and chatting with many a member of the clergy and local historians. It's not unreasonable to say the British Iles is positively INFESTED with gargoyles!
Thanks for re-igniting an old interest, looking forward to reading this. Thank you Glenn.


message 27: by Glenn (last edited Oct 28, 2015 04:59PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Glenn Russell Peter wrote: "Thanks for that info. Having a passion for gargoyle hunting here in the UK, there really are no Angels having climbed on roofs used very long zoom lenses and chatting with many a member of the cler..."

Again, my pleasure. Go for it, Peter!


message 28: by Peter (new) - added it

Peter Fantastic picture. Where is your town hall, because that is a remarkable gargoyle.


Glenn Russell Jean-Paul wrote: "Peter wrote: "Fantastic picture. Where is your town hall, because that is a remarkable gargoyle."

Thank you Peter. It's: Hôtel de Ville, Place de la Palud 2, 1002 Lausanne"


Thanks, Jean-Paul. And if a Swiss shop in your town specializing in cakes and Swiss chocolate were to make either a cake or a chocolate sculpture using this gargoyle as a model, I suspect they would gain quite a reputation and increase in sales.


message 30: by Glenn (last edited Sep 28, 2016 01:16PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Glenn Russell Jean-Paul wrote: "Glenn wrote: "Jean-Paul wrote: "Peter wrote: "Fantastic picture. Where is your town hall, because that is a remarkable gargoyle."

Than..."

My pleasure Glenn, I'm sure it would. I'm not a very goo..."


Thanks! I'll have to contact them.


message 31: by Peter (new) - added it

Peter Swiss chocolate... Have heard of Blondels, however once you have tried the Mozart chocolates it's really hard to find anything to beat them!


message 32: by fourtriplezed (new)

fourtriplezed Superb review Glen and has piqued my interest in the book. I was an apprentice printer in the mid 70's at the old Government Printing Office in George Street Brisbane Qld Australia. Though the printer has long disappeared the building still survives and has some fantastic "Printers Devils" . Though not technically Gargoyles your review has had me thinking of them. http://boggoroad.blogspot.com.au/2015...


Glenn Russell 4ZZZ wrote: "Superb review Glen and has piqued my interest in the book. I was an apprentice printer in the mid 70's at the old Government Printing Office in George Street Brisbane Qld Australia. Though the prin..."

Thanks so much! And WOW, those are some fantastic gargoyle-like grotesques, to be sure. Glad you were thinking of them and shared with us.


message 34: by Arah-Lynda (new)

Arah-Lynda Fascinating Glenn. Love the images.


Glenn Russell Arah-Lynda wrote: "Fascinating Glenn. Love the images."

Thanks so much for reading, Arah-Lynda! So glad you loved the images. It was a real blast looking through all the photos of gargoyles on the web and picking out several.


message 36: by Apryl (new)

Apryl Anderson So cool! Here's another one of those "wish I'd thought of it first" research tomes. Cheers to Ms. Benton ;0›


Glenn Russell Apryl wrote: "So cool! Here's another one of those "wish I'd thought of it first" research tomes. Cheers to Ms. Benton ;0›"

Thanks! I suspect there are still plenty of gargoyles to research and write about if you are so inspired.


message 38: by Mohsin (new)

Mohsin Maqbool Glenn: The first time I came to know about gargoyles was through Schoolgirl comic books, published from Fleet Street in London, during 1966 or 1967. The first time I actually saw some was in Kathmandu (Nepal) during the summer of 1969. They were right inside the entrance of a park. However, these had been placed about two feet above the ground and were being used as water-taps to wash the hands rather than water sprouts for draining rainwater. There must have been about eight, a foot apart from each other. They were in the shape of ugly faces.
I always used to think that the grotesques at the Cathedral of Notre Dame were gargoyles. I finally got to see them when my elder brother took my wife and me to Paris from Hanau (Germany) in August 2001. Thanks a lot for clarifying the difference between the two.
I thoroughly enjoyed going through your review.
All the best.


Glenn Russell Mohsin wrote: "Glenn: The first time I came to know about gargoyles was through Schoolgirl comic books, published from Fleet Street in London, during 1966 or 1967. The first time I actually saw some was in Kathma..."

My pleasure, Mohsin. How about that, those Nepal gargoyles to wash hands. I saw this on the net:



message 40: by Mohsin (new)

Mohsin Maqbool Jean-Paul wrote: "Absolutely enchanting! I adore this review Glenn for its content and images. I have a soft spot for gargoyles which represent such a wealth of creative fantasy. Here is one from our town hall :)

Jean-Paul: What a coincidence as I too love looking at gargoyles! The one from your city is truly extraordinary. I have never seen one like it anywhere. Thanks a lot for providing the photograph.
If you have others in your city, then please post their snaps too. Thank you.



message 41: by Mohsin (new)

Mohsin Maqbool Glenn wrote: "Mohsin wrote: "Glenn: The first time I came to know about gargoyles was through Schoolgirl comic books, published from Fleet Street in London, during 1966 or 1967. The first time I actually saw som..."

Yes, this is from Nepal too and is absolutely unique. But I am sure the ones that I saw were much smaller in comparison. Their faces might have been six to eight inches long.


message 42: by Jaidee (new)

Jaidee Great review and discussion Glenn.

One might say....Gargoyliscious !!


Glenn Russell Jaidee wrote: "Great review and discussion Glenn.

One might say....Gargoyliscious !!"


Thanks, Jaidee!! My own sense is how these gargoyles have so much in common with Jungian archetypes.


HBalikov I have read King's Nightmares in the Sky which has a great collection of photos. Your review reminds me there is a lot more to consider.


HBalikov "What I personally find so fascinating about gargoyles is what they signified for the actual medieval artists, well-trained craftsmen who could let their imaginations soar well beyond any fixed rules set down by the church. The creation of gargoyles was one area, similar to the creatures drawn in the margins of medieval manuscripts, that was uncensored by authorities..."

I share your fascination Glenn, but perhaps I have more frustration with the lack of anything but speculation on their origin and purpose.


message 46: by David (new)

David Awesome account, Glenn. Entertainment? I can see that.... cheers


Glenn Russell David wrote: "Awesome account, Glenn. Entertainment? I can see that.... cheers"

Thank you, David. What strikes me about all these bold, original works is the unbounded imagination of the artists. Given a space to engage their imagination and express themselves, they didn't hold back. Too bad one of those gargoyle carvers didn't leave a diary or journal we could read today. I'm sure it would be chock full of inspiration and surprises.

By the way, one of my favorite short stories is Clark Ashton Smith's The Maker of Gargoyles. What an unforgettable tale: http://www.eldritchdark.com/writings/...


message 48: by Ted (new)

Ted bookmarked. Second link, non-fiction section N (as you indicated).


HBalikov Glenn wrote: "David wrote: "Awesome account, Glenn. Entertainment? I can see that.... cheers"

Thank you, David. What strikes me about all these bold, original works is the unbounded imagination of the artists. ..."


Great link, Glenn. Thanks! And I agree, it would likely be a fascinating insight to be able to know what inspired any of these marvelous carvers.


Glenn Russell HBalikov wrote: "Glenn wrote: "David wrote: "Awesome account, Glenn. Entertainment? I can see that.... cheers"

Thank you, David. What strikes me about all these bold, original works is the unbounded imagination of..."


And thanks in turn, H, for reading and taking time to post your comment. And what great artists those carvers were!


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