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What is the origin and meaning of gargoyles?


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Question: "What is the origin and meaning of gargoyles?"

Gargoyles are figures often carved into the architecture of old churches, usually in the form of a grotesque animal or human. Many times gargoyles in Gothic churches were attached to the gutter system of the roof, with the mouth of the gargoyle acting as a spout for rainwater, helping keep the masonry from being destroyed.

Catholic churches in the Middle Ages used gargoyles for a secondary purpose, after diverting water from the church walls. Some believe gargoyles on a church were meant to ward off evil; it’s also possible that the gargoyles symbolized evil spirits, monstrous entities, and damned souls. The thinking was that the church offered spiritual safety for those who accepted its authority, but outside the church was spiritual danger. The gargoyles were thus a warning to the populace that it was better to be inside the church than outside.

It’s also possible that the thinking behind gargoyles was to create a symbolic representation of hell; again, the outside of the church was contrasted with the inside. But gargoyles date back to pre-Christian times. One of the earliest examples of gargoyles is a set of lion-shaped water spouts built into the side of the temple of Zeus in Olympia, Greece. Ancient Egyptian architecture also boasts gargoyles, most of these also shaped as lions.

Gargoyles are never mentioned in the Bible. Demons are sometimes portrayed as looking somewhat like gargoyles, but it is unlikely that demons would take on such a form, considering their goal of deceiving people into believing them to be angels of light (2 Corinthians 11:14). Simply put, the Bible gives us no reason to believe that any being resembling a gargoyle exists. Gargoyles are certainly more interesting than undecorated rainspouts, and the symbolism behind them is fascinating. But spiritual safety is not found inside a building or in a works-based religion; it is found only in Christ (Proverbs 18:10; 2 Samuel 22:3; Psalm 91:2).

Recommended Resource: Christianity Through the Centuries by Earle Cairns

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What is the origin and meaning of gargoyles?

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