20 September 2011


Wasserspier is the German word for gargoyle, and it is so much fun to say! (Almost as fun as the German word for ambulance.) At any rate, those little uglies served a dual purpose in medieval architecture. The gargoyles we are studying were part of a system of guttering that removed water from the rooftops of the cathedrals constructed in the Middle Ages. Many had channels cut into their backs that extended the guttering. (And, since they were typically located far above the tree tops, one assumes that leaves collecting in the gutters were not a problem. Although I can guess that the occasional bird would build a nest in an inconvenient place and clog up the works.)

The legend of the gargoyle is this:
"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.[4] 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)." ~Wikipedia.
Gargoyles were also a visual reminder of evil and the need for Christ when most could not read, and indeed had no access to books in the first place.  At any rate, they were ugly enough to scare people into behaving themselves.

Art Smart has another great project, so we are making clay gargoyles this week. Hopefully they will be full of interesting textures and details. Garlic presses are useful for hair; toothpicks make great carving tools, as do forks; and pressing bubble wrap into the clay should make for interesting skin.

Updated 10/7/11 to include photos of the girls' projects.

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