8 Great Gargoyles and Grotesques to Both Terrify and Amuse - Atlas Obscura Lists

8 Great Gargoyles and Grotesques to Both Terrify and Amuse

Not all the church-clinging beasties are so bad.

Gargoyles and grotesques are hideous monstrosities—most of the time—that top buildings from Gothic cathedrals to older apartment buildings. Laborious works of masonry, their typically animal forms and gnarled or reptilian features set off immediate connections to earlier days of the church, days of fire and brimstone, and the immense effort that went into their construction. But gargoyles are a much more diverse family than Notre Dame would have you believe.

“Gargoyles” have been used as far back as ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, as decorative water spouts designed to shift rainfall away from buildings and fancifully down to ground. They have been common features of buildings for centuries, often representations of animals, and it was in medieval Europe, that they picked up the name (from the French gargouille, or “waterspout”) and began to resemble the ones we’re familiar with today, many of which are actually “grotesques”—similarly iconic uglies, but ones placed for more purely cosmetic purposes. The forms were meant to represent evil and strike fear in the hearts of laypeople, who then (conveniently!) would turn to the nearby church for sanctuary. In modern times, gargoyles and grotesques the world over have found a second, tongue-in-cheek life, reminding folks on the ground that not even gargoyles have to take themselves seriously. 

From the dark lord Vader crowning the Washington National Cathedral to a bat-like vampiric rabbit atop a church in Newcastle, England, some gargoyles are less mere decoration and more like secret sights to actively seek out. They can be a stony venue for pop culture references, nods to local heroes, and more. Without further ado, here are some of great, unusual gargoyles and grotesques around the world.