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The word gargoyle comes from the Old French word gargouille meaning throat or gullet. This word is used to describe the sound that is produced when water passes through the throat and mixes with air (origin of the word gargle). This word was origionall used in reference to the drains atop cathedrals which were later carved into the form of beasts or animals. Gargoyles which combine several different animals are also known as chimeras.

We generally describe gargoyles as any sculpted creature inhabitating the upper levels of buildings, be they cathedrals or not. Although these carvings are generally refered to as gargoyles, there is a difference between gargoyles and grotesques; friezes and bosses.

True gargoyles were created for two purposes. One, to ward off evil and second to eject excess water from the exterior of buildings. A gargoyle is carved from a roof gutter to catch rainwater and throw it clear of a building.

A grotesque is a style of art that is characterized by human or animal figures distorting nature into absurdity. Grotesques were carved as designs of figures for the adornment of buildings. At the same time they were made to symbolize the desire to fight the power of evil.

Some grotesques were carved onto a frieze, which is a horizontal band of decoration around the upper section of a wall, often ornamented with sculpture.

The term boss is used to describe an ornamental projecting block which can be found at the end of a moulding or an arch.

Although most gargoyles were portrayed as frightening figures, some were meant to be a "sermon in stone". Churches would use visual images to spread the scriptures to an illeterate population by using gargoyles, stained glass, and sculptures.

A ledgend has it that a fierce dragon named La Gargouille lived in the river near Paris and devoured ships and men. The village was saved by Saint Romanis. After the battle, the creature was set ablaze and its head and neck survived to be mounted on a building. This practice spread and La Gargouille may have become the model for gargoyles.

Some believe that gargoyles were inspired directly from a passage in the bible. Others believe that gargoyles represent deep rooted elements within human nature; either by the love of the grotesque or man's subconscience fears. Some also believe that gargoyles were inspired by the skeletal remains of prehistoric beasts such as dinosaurs and giant reptiles. Still others will argue that they are vestiges of Peganism from an age when God would be heard in trees and river plains. Many gargoyles are similar to the ledgends and figures of the ancient Celts, such as the Green Man or Jack of the Green...the God of tree worship.

Gargoyles can be dragons, men, cats, bats, frogs, serpents and countless others. They are still being carved today with many having a modern, whimsical theme. Gargoyles have been with man for hundreds of years, and they still seem to inspire the imagination of modern society.