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What do Gargoyles Symbolize? (Top 4 Meanings)

What do Gargoyles Symbolize? (Top 4 Meanings)

Gargoyles are one of the most fascinating and intriguing architectural features that have captured the imagination of people for centuries. These unique sculptures, often found adorning the walls of mediaeval cathedrals and buildings, are known for their intricate designs and intricate details. 

While they are commonly associated with their use as waterspouts, gargoyles have also been revered for their symbolic significance. 

In this article, we will delve into the history and meaning behind these fascinating creatures, exploring the cultural and religious significance of gargoyles and what they represent in various contexts. 

From their origins in ancient times to their enduring presence in popular culture today, the symbolism of gargoyles is a rich and complex topic that offers a unique glimpse into the human psyche and our relationship with the unknown.

History and Meaning of Gargoyles

Gargoyles are decorative features commonly found on buildings, particularly mediaeval cathedrals. They are often depicted as grotesque creatures with animal or human features, perched on the roofline or on the corners of a building.

The history of gargoyles can be traced back to ancient civilizations such as Egypt and Greece, where they were used to ward off evil spirits and protect buildings. In mediaeval Europe, gargoyles were incorporated into the design of churches and cathedrals to serve a similar purpose. They were believed to have the power to scare away evil spirits and protect the church and its worshippers. (1)

Gargoyle stonework on side of tower.
Photo by Wolfgang Krzemien

Gargoyles also served a practical purpose. They were often used as waterspouts to divert rainwater away from the walls of the building. The water would flow through the gargoyle’s mouth and out of its spout, preventing damage to the structure.

The meaning behind gargoyles has evolved over time. In addition to their protective and practical uses, they have also come to represent the darker side of human nature. Many gargoyles are depicted as grotesque or frightening creatures, reflecting the fears and anxieties of the people who created them.

In modern times, gargoyles have become popular in pop culture, appearing in movies, television shows, and literature. They are often depicted as fearsome guardians or protectors, reflecting their original purpose as guardians of buildings and their inhabitants.

Different Meanings of Gargoyles

Gargoyles have a rich and varied history and have been associated with different meanings over time. Here are some of the different meanings behind gargoyles and their significance:


Gargoyles were originally placed on buildings, especially churches and cathedrals, as protectors against evil spirits. (2) They were believed to have the power to ward off evil and protect the building and its inhabitants.

Gargoyle on Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, Paris, France.
Gargoyle on Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris, Paris, France
Photo by Pedro Lastra on Unsplash

The creatures were often depicted with fierce or grotesque features, intended to frighten off any potential threats. Gargoyles were also placed in strategic locations, such as the corners of roofs or around entrances, to act as sentinels and keep watch over the building.

In this way, gargoyles symbolise protection by serving as guardians of the building and its occupants. They were believed to have the power to keep evil at bay and provide a sense of security and safety for those inside. Even today, gargoyles continue to be associated with protection, and many people still display them as a symbol of their desire for security and safety.

Water Diversion

Gargoyles also serve a practical purpose by diverting rainwater away from the walls of a building. They are often designed with an open mouth, through which water flows and is channelled away from the roof and walls.

Gargoyle with water coming from mouth.
Photo by Jamie Street on Unsplash

The water would then flow out of the gargoyle’s spout, preventing water damage to the building’s structure. In this way, gargoyles symbolise water diversion by acting as an architectural feature that helps to protect the building from the damaging effects of rainwater. (3)

While their primary purpose was to divert water, gargoyles were often designed in creative and whimsical ways, adding a decorative element to the building as well. Today, many people continue to admire gargoyles for their unique designs and practical uses.


Gargoyles are also known for their decorative value, as they add a unique and interesting element to buildings. They are often crafted with intricate designs, featuring animal or human features, and were created to showcase the artistic talents of the craftsmen who made them.

Gargoyles can be found in a variety of styles and designs, ranging from whimsical and playful to menacing and grotesque. They are often placed in prominent locations on the building, such as on the roof or at the entrance, to draw attention and add visual interest.

Gargoyle stoneworks on a balcony.
Photo by Francesco Ungaro

In this way, gargoyles symbolise decoration by serving as a unique and interesting architectural element that adds character and charm to the building. Today, many people continue to appreciate gargoyles for their beauty and craftsmanship, and they are often used in art and design as a source of inspiration.

Cultural and Religious Significance of Gargoyles

Gargoyles have cultural and religious significance in different parts of the world. In Hinduism, for example, they were believed to be protectors of homes and temples. They were often placed at the entrance of a building to keep out evil spirits and negative energy.

In Christianity, gargoyles were often used as symbols of the struggle between good and evil. They were placed on churches and cathedrals as protectors of the building and its inhabitants. The frightening appearance of some gargoyles was believed to scare off evil spirits and protect the faithful from harm. (4)

Gargoyles have also been used in other cultures and religions, such as Islam and Buddhism, to represent different concepts and ideas.

Overall, gargoyles have a long and varied history, and their cultural and religious significance continues to fascinate people today. They are viewed as powerful and meaningful symbols that reflect the beliefs and values of the people who created them.

Wrapping Up

In conclusion, gargoyles are fascinating and complex symbols that have captured the imaginations of people for centuries. From their origins as protectors of buildings to their practical uses in water diversion, and their decorative and cultural significance, they have become an enduring and beloved part of our architectural landscape. 

Whether viewed as guardians of the building or simply as fascinating works of art, gargoyles continue to hold a special place in our hearts and imaginations.