Notre Dame gargoyles: Medieval symbol or practical structure?

Statues' role multifunctional

A view of Paris is seen from the roof of the Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. (Photo by Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images) (Getty Images)

If you’ve ever visited Notre Dame or even seen pictures, it’s hard not to notice the gargoyle sculptures that sit atop the cathedral.

The mythical creatures, which were added to the church during reconstruction in the 1840s, have served as an essential part of the building, but do you know why they're there or what they stand for? It turns out their role is somewhat multifunctional. 

The main purpose of the gargoyles is actually quite practical: They serve to drain rainwater so that the stone is protected from damage caused by excessive runoff, according to PARISCityVISION.

The more interesting part of the gargoyles could be their symbolic meaning.

Inspired by fantastic bestiaries, they’re often quite frightening looking. Because of that — since medieval times — they have been thought to frighten off and keep demons and evil forces away from the walls of the church, protecting the churchgoers from any harmful spirits.

Another idea is that the gargoyles are believed to have a purifying role, as they keep the unclean water and wastewater away.

Stryge. Image by Kathryn Kolencik from Pixabay.

The most famous Notre Dame gargoyle, known as “Stryge,” has watched over the city of Paris with its head in its hands.

According to Réunion des Musées Métropolitains Rouen Normandie, the Stryge was created with intentions for it to stand out from the other gargoyles, its contemplative pose and demonic appearance giving it a rare symbolic power. 

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