The York Minster Visual Introduction to Grotesques

Some of the following information is from,
an Introduction to Gargoyles compiled as a Class Project for the School of Information and Library Science at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill by Jack Westerhoff ( and Beth Stevens.

The gargoyle often makes his perch
On a cathedral or a church
Where, mid eclesiastic style
He smiles an early Gothic smile

Oliver Herford

Gargoyle: (word origin: Old French [15th century] gargouille, or 'throat')
Gargoyles - grotesquely carved heads of animal or human origin, with or without bodies - originally had a practical use as waterspouts (generally) on sacred buildings, throwing rainwater clear of walls. They were also used as educational devices for a largely illiterate population, and were believed to ward off evil spirits with their own grotesqueness. One of the earliest recorded gargoyles is a Classical Greek lion mask on the Acropolis in Athens dating from the 4th century BC.  
Gargoyles later became more ornamental in character and assumed many forms - often humourous and very inventive. Most were carved between the 10th and 15th centuries in Western Europe.  
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, living in 12th-century France, made some interesting (and not wholly complimentary) observations on the gargoyle carvings he saw around him:  
"What are these fantastic monsters doing in the cloisters under the very eyes of the brothers as they read? What is the meaning of these unclean monkeys, strange savage lions and monsters? To what purpose are here placed these creatures, half beast, half man? I see several bodies with one head and several heads with one body. Here is a quadruped with a serpent's head, there a fish with a quadruped's head, then again an animal half horse, half goat... Surely if we do not blush for such absurdities we should at least regret what we have spent on them."  
You can detect the answer in Pope Gregory's instructions to St. Augustine regarding the conversion of the pagan peoples to Christianity:
"Destroy the idol. Purify the temples with holy water. Set relics there, and let them become temples of the true God. So the people will have no need to change their place of concourse, and, where of old they were wont to sacrifice cattle to demons, thither let them continue to resort on the day of the saint to where the Church is dedicated, and slay their beasts, no longer as a sacrifice but for social meal in honor of Him whom they now worship."  
In other words, to facilitate conversion to Christianity, pre-Christian practices and symbols were incorporated into the rituals of the Catholic Church.  
To understand medieval sculpture you must imagine the medieval person's powerful belief in God. The cathedral was the manifestation of their faith. Every person in the community contributed something. Those with no gold to give could harnass themselves to the large carts which dragged stones from the quarry to the building site. The cathedral was to be the most beautiful structure on earth, and no task was considered too arduous for the glory of God.  
The cathedral was also to be a "sermon in stone" which could be "read" by an illiterate population. Some gargoyles clearly fill this instructional purpose by illustrating Bible stories, from Eve's first reach for the apple to frightening images of eternal damnation.  
But not all gargoyles were for religious instruction. Some were simply grotesque. One reason for this is the belief that frightening figures could scare away evil spirits, and they were put on the outsides of buildings to do just that.  
Once you've looked at 50 or 100 gargoyles, you'll begin to notice some recurring themes. These are likely to be signs and symbols of European paganism. For example:  
Disembodied Heads :
You will see a lot of heads that have become detached from their bodies. This harks back to the 5th Century Celts who were, in fact, head-hunters. They worshipped the heads that they had severed, believing them to hold a powerful force. If you make eye contact with one, you may find out that this is true.  
Gender/Species Combinations :
Figures of ambiguous gender and species are frequently encountered in the world of gargoyles. Ancient people were no different from people today in finding amalgrams of male/female or human/animal bodies somewhat frightening. Pagan religion existed to confront and surmount chaos and danger. Chaos is represented by lifeforms which do not fit into known categories.  
Gaping Mouths
You will find that an inordinate number of gargoyles have their mouths wide open and their tongues protruding. Why?  
The mouth pulled open is a frequent symbol of devouring giants. In order to convey size in a small sculpture, much smaller figures are placed next to the "giant". The act of pulling the mouth open is a threatening gesture which serves to remind us that we are vulnerable to forces larger than ourselves.  
Men With Foliage
The Celts often depicted a human head entwined with foliage. Branches coming from the mouth or crowning the head were a sign of divinity. Often, the branches are of the oak tree which was sacred to the Druids. Images like this have come to be called "Jack O'Green" or "The Green Man"  
Sex Objects
Fertility was the major theme of pagan religions, and fertility symbols were not excluded from cathedral walls. If these symbols were on the outside walls, they might scare off evil spirits. This would explain how some fairly crude sexual imagery came to be preserved on the outer walls. However, some would argue that these images may arouse more than they discourage. The most crudely sexual image is perhaps that of Sheelagh-na-Gig, commongly found on medieal Irish churches. Her eyes are typically round and deeply drilled, with no mouth and an obscene pose:  

The rest of the information is from:
According to the Encyclopedia Americana a gargoyle is "a waterspout, projecting from a roof gutter or upper part of a building to throw water clear of walls or foundations." (307) So they protect the mortar and the stones of the building from erosion. Gargoyles are widespread on medieval buildings. That is because dividing the flow of water minimalized the potential damage coming from each gargoyle's mouth, and because of the great number of gutters carried on the top of flying buttresses and walls. (Benton 14)   In the Gothic era, especially in the Decorated and Perpendicular Gothic styles of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, gargoyles were the preferred method of drainage, but, especially in areas of the building which were not exposed to view, waterspouts were not necessarily carved as gargoyles. (Benton 12) Their architectural function may have been served originally by wooden or ceramic waterspouts. The introduction of stone for this purpose made the possibility of carving them into ornamental forms more inviting. (Benton 10)
  Although they are a common feature of the late Romanesque and the Gothic period, gargoyles appear throughout architectural history starting in Ancient Greece and Egypt until today. The Egyptians, their religion having a great number of hybrid deities, were the first to depict grotesque figures in their architecture and wall paintings. The Greeks incorporated these deities and ideas of hybrid creatures in their beliefs. So there can be found harpies, centaurs, griffins, and chimeras in Greek mythology. Later on, statues of griffins would be placed at each corner of the roofs of their temples and treasuries, because it was said that griffins guarded the large amount of gold in Scythia, a town far north of Greece, from the Arimaspians (Cyclops) who were constantly trying to steal the gold. Gutters in Greek architecture were added to the ends of a building's roof using pottery tiles with their edges turn upward. Sometimes those tiles were added to the sides of the buildings. In this case, carved marble lion heads with open mouths aligned the gutters. The rainwater ran down the gutter and came out of the lion's mouth. Lions were used because they symbolized the strength of Greece. They should protect the building and its inhabitants from enemies and ward off evil spirits. (Online Source 9)  
The erection of the great churches and cathedrals of the Middle Ages took generations. So it is difficult to date the creation of a gargoyle. The replacement of gargoyles due to decay is also complicating the dating of gargoyles. But it can be said that at the beginning of the twelfth century the first gargoyles in the modern sense appeared. (Benton 11) The medieval gargoyles' shapes seem to have evolved over the years. They got longer in size, some of the later examples are up to one meter in length, and were carved finer as earlier examples. At the end of the thirteenth century the figures got more complicated, and human figures tended to replace animals. Since the fourteenth century they generally have been long, slender, and very detailed. They also got more exaggerated and caricatured, in the fifteenth century they even got less demonic, but more amusing through energetic, exaggerated poses and facial expressions. (Benton 12, 15; Online Source 8) As the subjects depicted in Gothic sculpture included over the years more and more non- religious themes, gargoyles, too, seem to have lost some of their religious connotations. They were used on buildings up to the sixteenth century. (Benton 15)  
The term "gargoyle" was derived from French gargouille meaning 'throat' and Latin gurgulio meaning 'gullet'. (Encyclopedia Britannica, p. 307/"gargoyle") An explanation for the use with the protruding architectural means could be, although more charming than credible, the following legend: A dragon called La Gargouille lived in a cave close to the River Seine in France. It swallowed ships, caused destruction with its fiery breath, and spouted so much water that it caused flooding. The residents of nearby Rouen attempted to placate La Gargouille with an annual offering of a live victim; although the dragon preferred maidens, it was usually given a criminal to consume. Around the year 600, the priest Romanus (or Romain) arrived in Rouen and promised to deal with the dragon if the townspeople agreed to be baptized and to build a church. Equipped with everything needed for an exorcism, Romanus subdued the dragon by making the sign of the cross. La Gargouille was burned at the stake, but the head and neck, well tempered by the heat of the dragon's fiery breath, would not burn. These remnants were mounted on the town wall and became the model for gargoyles for centuries to come. (Online Source 6)  
The functions of gargoyles were manifold: first of all there was their architectural purpose, which is almost lost today. Only a few gargoyles fulfil that function today. With some examples it is not even sure if water ever issued from the gargoyle's mouth. Another important function may have been the religious education of the mainly illiterate populace. (Benton 21) Although this is the opinion of most experts, it stands in contrast to the appearance of gargoyles on secular buildings and private homes, and high on church buildings, where they can barely be seen with the naked eye, and that not two of them were alike. The absence of gargoyles shaped in forms of the standard repertoire of medieval imagery also speaks against this theory. This may be caused by two reasons: firstly, the secular buildings also needed protection from erosion caused by rainwater. Although this could be done by simple, uncarved stone cylinders protruding from the wall, gargoyles were used because they seemed, in connection with some of their other functions, the appropriate device. Gargoyles in heights not to be seen with the naked eye can be explained by the general concept of Gothic ecclesiastical buildings: churches and cathedrals, all dedicated to God and being a glorification of Him, should be perfect in all detail, for God was everywhere and could see everything. There is no gargoyle that is like another, because it seems that the stone masons had free choice of what in special to depict.  
Another function of the gargoyles could have been to ward off evil spirits and protect the valuables within the church, continuing the Greek tradition. The idea was that demons were either frightened away or assumed that other evil creatures were already there and would avoid attacking the building. That could explain why gargoyles are rarely pretty, but horrible, grotesque in their appearance. They would have been a "sort of sacred scarecrow to frighten the devil away" (Benton 24). In connection with their function as an educational device they could have been symbols of the evil forces (such as temptations and sins) "lurking outside the sanctuary of the church; upon passing the gargoyles, the visitor's safety was assured within the church". (Benton 24) Grotesque creatures appearing in the church would then be evil monstrosities having redeemed themselves by labouring in the service of the church as waterspouts, who were rewarded by being permitted entry to the church. Francis Bligh Bond, an English architectural historian, supposed the meaning of the gargoyles as being the symbolic overcome and conversion to good even of the most monstrous forms of evil by the Church. In any case, gargoyles were used as symbols, and could be interpreted in many ways. They could have represented the souls condemned for their sins, whom was therefore the entrance to church forbidden. The price for sinning, although they were spared from eternal damnation, would be to be turned to stone. That would also correspond with the theory of gargoyles being for education, as they then would have been reminders of what could happen to sinners. (Benton 25) Another theory, whose specific origin can no longer be identified, has it that gargoyles are fashioned after local demons and guardian spirits, continuing pagan themes. (Online Source 1) They are also said to be an expression of man's subconscious fears. (Online 8) The explanation for the meaning of gargoyles can perhaps only be a combination of many of those theories.  
The motives chosen to be depicted as gargoyles (and grotesques) were manifold and had several origins. Some of them were biblical themes, some of them had an pagan origin, some came from Greek, Egyptian and oriental mythology. (Vaux 9) A theme of pagan origin often to be found in and around churches is the Green Man (the name "Green Man" was coined in 1929 by Lady Raglan). Depicted is a man's head being surrounded by foliage, sometimes even with foliage sprouting from its mouth, nose, eyes, or ears. It can also be a face entirely composed of leaves. In churches and cathedrals the motive appeared the first time in the eleventh century. It can be traced back to Roman times. (Online Sources 1; 2; 3; 4)  
The Green Man, also called Jack-of-the-Green or leaf man, represents most certainly the tree spirit, the old forest god of the oak, for with the Green Man oak leaves are often depicted. It was, in pre-Christian times, a symbol of fertility and rebirth, representing irrepressible life, with the forces of nature merging with humanity. In medieval times he could have represented lust or another of the seven deadly sins, but he may also have protective functions. (Online Sources 3; 4; Benton 77)  
There may be a connection between this motive and the worship of the human head in Celtic religions: After a battle the heads of the fallen were cut off and raised on poles around the settlement to ward off evil spirits. Sometimes even leaves were wrapped around the heads in honour of some local deity or tree spirit. (Vaux 25) Old English folk stories had their own Green Man, the Corn (or Barley) God, who was said to be resurrected after death, in the shape of a tree growing out of his head (Online Source 4). In the legends about King Arthur, a Green Man can also be found in Sir Gawain, called the "Green Knight". He had a green head, a green face, green armour, and even a green horse. When he was decapitated, he continued to live, symbolically personifying the regeneration powers of the plant realm (Online Source 3). The Green Man was also part of the May Day processions which celebrated the spring, as a dancer, covered all over with leaves and wearing a mask, dancing ahead of the May Queen. (Benton 77) The Green Man vanished with the 'Old Faith' after the Reformation, but reappeared, with changed meaning, in the seventeenth and eighteenth century. Finally, the Victorians used the image as street decoration. (Online Source 2)  
Another pagan motive to be found in churches, and also in Christian mythology, was in pre-Christian times called Cernunnos, the old horned god of the woodlands. He was the Lord of all animals, later the church adopted him as the visual form of the devil. He may have his origin in the horned gods of Ancient Greece or the Greek satyr. (Vaux 32, Kelten 89) The motive of a horse with a rider had its origin in Nordic mythology, Rome and Persia (about 600 B. C.), and Egyptian art: Horus, the god of light, and often depicted as a falcon, rides out to destroy a dragon-crocodile. This story can, more simplified, also be found in Christian mythology as the story of St George and St Michael slaying the dragon as a symbol of the conflict between good and evil. (Vaux 35) Joculatores, jugglers, perhaps with animal masks, personified demonic obsession and symbolized, that unbridled bodies are worth only damnation. (Kunst der Romanik 340) An explanation for the adoption of so many pagan themes can be found in Pope Gregory's instructions to St Augustine, regarding the conversion of the pagan peoples to Christianity:  
"Destroy the idol. Purify the temples with holy water. Set relics there, and let them become temples of the true God. So the people will have no need to change their place of concourse, and, where of old they were wont to sacrifice cattle to demons, thither let them continue to resort on the say of the sint to where the church is dedicated, and slay their beasts, no longer as a sacrifice but for social meal in honor of Him whom they now worship."   (Online Source 1)  
In other words, the adoption of pagan symbols and themes was an aid in religious conversion as well as the building of the churches of the new religion on sites of pagan temples or pagan worship. Would those images have been objectionable to the Church, they would have been removed long ago. (Benton 23) Attempts to explain the shapes of gargoyles to be derived from the skeletal remains of dinosaurs or from stellar constellations seem to be of limited plausibility. (Benton 23)  
Gargoyles can be divided into several groups, according to their shape: there are animal gargoyles, human shaped gargoyles, and hybrid gargoyles. For most gargoyles are grotesque, a further division into grotesque gargoyles and non-grotesque ones does not seem useful.  
Animal gargoyles were depicted in varying degrees of fidelity to nature. Entire animals were likely to be posed as if holding by its claws onto the building (Benton 14). They seem to stretch as if trying to throw their water as far as possible from the building. Motives were not only animals the stone mason knew by sight, but also exotic animals like for example lions and monkeys, and fantastic animals like the dragon. Their knowledge about those animals they received from the so called 'Bestiaries' like the 'Physiologus', or from travelling menageries. (Vaux 9) Bestiaries were illustrated books of animal lore, which described the habits of animals, both fantastical and real, and gave them a moral meaning, equalizing their features and behaviour with a Christian way of live. The basis for those collections were laid (as in the case of the Physiologus) in the second and third centuries, in the twelfth and thirteenth century they had reached the highest state of popularity (T&H 33f.; Kunst der Romanik 239). The popularity of the Bestiaries coincided chronologically and geographically with that of the gargoyles. The symbolism given to animals in those Bestiaries were also attached to the gargoyle animals. So certain animals were used more frequently than others for having special positive or negative meanings. Dogs and lions were most frequently used. (Benton 82)  
Dogs were always known for the loyalty to their master, further they were usually watchdogs. In the Bestiaries they were described as being wise, and had high ability to reason. So they symbolized the priest who cares for his congregation and drives away the devil. But they were not only vehicles for positive meanings: they could also be intended - as well as the wolf - to frighten. (Vaux 21) Lions and leonine beasts - "Kings of Beasts" and the most often depicted animals in medieval art - were in ancient times used as a symbol for Sumerian, Assyrian and Persian kings, later this tradition was continued in representing Christ, the king of the tribe of Judah. The lion was said to erase its tracks with its tail, which was either equated to Christ's ability to elude the devil or to the image of the Saviour living unrecognized on earth. Further the lioness gave birth to dead cubs, which were resurrected three days later by their father. When a lion was ill, the only certain cure for him was to kill and eat a monkey, which was a symbol of the evil forces. This was taken as a further symbol for the overcome of the evil by the good. It was also said never to close his eyes even if asleep, being an emblem of vigilance. So it was placed on tombs and beside the entryways to churches. Besides lion heads were used as door knockers. (Benton 86). But Vaux states that, if shown supporting the pillars of a door, the lion used to be evil, as well as if it was a holding a lamb or was a bicorporate lion of pagan or at least pre-Christian origin. In any case, the lion was predominantly associated with vigilant, valiant, regal, and powerful behaviour. (29) This changed in the later Middle Ages, when the seven deadly sins were associated with animals - the lion became the symbol of pride. (Benton 86) Other animals with a symbolic meaning were the ram, equated to the priests leading their flock, further the fox - an animal of deceit, cunning, craftiness, which sometimes also symbolized death. The goat was said to be omniscient, but male goats were also said to be chronically lustful. Monkeys were generally evil, or a symbol for the fall of mankind. Birds, with their aerial habitat a natural choice for gargoyles, have a unclear meaning, if there is one. (Benton 90ff.) As it can be seen with the examples, animals (and other symbolic objects) had a complex meaning, which, in addition, changed over the centuries. For the explanation of their meaning it would be useful to date the gargoyles, but as shown above, this is difficult, if not impossible.  
Human gargoyles are often bizarre and laughable. Their imperfect physical characteristics are probably connected with the medieval belief of physical ugliness and illness being caused by demons or evil. The public expression of feelings, as seen with many gargoyles, carried similar connotations (Benton 52). Benton suggests that their expressions may not have been intended to frighten, but that they are frightened by what they observe. Mouth pullers may refer to the sin of gluttony. They may also depict English traditions: competitions in face-pulling were common in northern England up to recent times. A protruding tongue may refer to Satan, who was often depicted sticking out his tongue. But it could as well refer to traitors, heretics, and blasphemers. It is also possible - for it is a symbol of refusal - that it should keep evil away. (Benton 56) If the water issues from an object (either a thing or an animal) held by the human shape, it could be related to Christian iconography, as for example Jonah and the whale, or Samson. (Benton 68) One of the most often depicted motives for human shape gargoyles is the Green Man.  
In medieval times there was a high acceptance of seemingly impossible animals. So it is not surprising to find a lot of fantasy creatures on churches and cathedrals, most of them composed of different known beings reassembling their symbolic meanings. Many hybrid (composite) gargoyles belong to unknown species. They combine either parts of different animals or animals and humans.  
Gargoyles combining several animals are also called chimeras. In Greek mythology a chimera is an imaginary creature that breathes fire, has a lion's head, a goat's body and a snakes tail (DCE), but the term is often used to name animal-animal mixtures. When being depicted in medieval times, they are generally viewed as sexual warnings, and warnings about the deception in physical appearances that comes with underestimating the devil. (Online Source 8) The origin of the meaning of these creatures can only be explained in some cases. Some may be the result of confusions with actual, but exotic animals, as for example the unicorn can be traced back to be a rhinoceros, as it is said in the Bestiaries, that in ancient Greece it was called so. (Benton 102)  
Isidor of Sevilla (c. 570 - 636) writes in his "Ethymologiae", a summary of the ancient knowledge, that criminals, because their offences made them slaves to the demonic powers anyway, had to eat magic plants, which transformed them into the most different animals and hybrids. (Kunst der Romanik 341) That could have been the basis for the medieval connotations to chimeras. Another explanation for human shaped hybrids (characterized by excessive hairiness or animal extremities) could be the medieval belief in "wildmen", wild people living in the woods. They were regarded as a degeneration of humans who had allowed the beast within to appear, or to be sinners in the sense of Isidor of Sevilla. As animals were considered to be lower forms of life, and those wildmen being very close to them, depictions of them could have been a warning to potential sinners. (Benton 70) Chimeras could also be a symbol for physical and spiritual disorder, because the law of nature and therefore of God was mixed up. Sometimes "known" monstrous races were depicted, i. e. monsters of Ancient mythology, but it is not certain whether they were known to the medieval carvers as well, their similarity could also be pure chance. (Benton 119)  
Dragons seem to be the fantasy creatures most often depicted. They usually symbolize the Devil or his demons. Already in Greek and Roman times they were menacing and destructive. The dragon as an evil being is also described in the Bible. He was compared to the Devil because the Devil's strength was also said to be in the tail. There is a high variety in their appearance, but they usually had a pair of wings which are membranous, some legs, a long reptilian tail, a long snout with visible teeth, and a fierce expression. The great diversity in depictions of demonic creatures can be explained by the belief that evil is more varied than beauty, as well as with the ability of the Devil to transform himself. (Benton 105)  
Though the impression may have been given that hybrids were only forces of evil, there are some few exceptions. Three of the four Evangelists were sometimes symbolized by animal-human hybrids: Matthew (winged man), Mark (winged lion), and Luke (winged ox). But not even in this case it is sure whether a corresponding gargoyle should represent one of them. Online Source 8) It is notable that - in contrast to the Gothic ideal of beauty - gargoyles are the opposite. It is possible that gargoyles were relicts of Romanesque art, for its style was never really abandoned in Early English Gothic. (Encyclopedia Britannica; Benton 15)  
Although the first gargoyles were made out of wood, the materials used for the later gargoyles were predominantly limestone and marble, but a few examples of metal gargoyles have survived. Lead gargoyles were more common after the fifteenth century. Brick was not used for gargoyles: Even brick buildings have stone gargoyles. No examples of terracotta gargoyles, sometimes used in medieval times, survive. In all probability they did not withstand the weather conditions and the rain for longer than a few decades.  
Gargoyles were seldom carved when they were already in position. They usually were carved down on the ground, but - maybe to avoid delay if the gargoyle had to be inserted at a specific point of construction, or it could be damaged while brought in position - some had to be carved in place. The gargoyles were carved after a model of clay or plaster, much in the same way as it is done today. (Benton 16f.) As well as grotesques inside and outside the church, they were richly painted and gilded. It seems that nearly as much money was spent on the gilding and painting as on its carving. In Victorian times, the last traces of the paint and the gilding were removed, when churches and cathedrals were restored in the sense of the Victorian Age. (Online 2) So it is not sure today, which colours were used, but it seems likely that they were similar to those of other medieval art objects.  
Gargoyles are still carved today: nowadays they do not serve sacred, but purely ornamental purposes, and are found on university building, secular buildings, and on medieval buildings replacing destroyed gargoyles: Due to their function and their protruding position gargoyles were always very vulnerable to erosion, decay, and damage. Today acid rain, caused by airborne chemicals, dissolve the minerals in the stone the gargoyles were made of and contribute to their destruction. Besides the channels in the backs of the gargoyles tend to fill with dirt that encourages the growth of plants whose roots and weight cause additional damage. Many gargoyles, whose mouths were filled with concrete after they lost their original purpose with the addition of gutters to the building, do not exist anymore. (Benton 18)  
Grotesques and Other Monsters
"Grotesques are the diverse beasts, hybrid creatures and fantasy scenes involving animals and humans found in various forms of Gothic art. The ultimate source of much of this imagery is in Roman art, some themes came from the combat scenes between men and beast used in the sculpture and decorative initials of the Romanesque period. The late thirteenth and the fourteenth century saw an unprecedented elaboration of this type of fantasy subject, in the borders of manuscripts, and in decorative sculpture and woodwork - especially misericords", small ledge-like projections on the other side of choir stall seats to give support when long standing was required. (T&H 110) Grotesques also frequently appeared on roof bosses, carved projections of stone or wood placed at the intersections of ribs in vaults. After the erection of the Canterbury Cathedral in the thirteenth century they became a usual architectural device. (T&H 207)  
In difference to gargoyles, grotesques serve no architectural but purely ornamental functions. Sometimes - and with the very same meaning - also called chimera, their other functions may be similar to those of the gargoyles (see above). The placing of grotesques, obviously secular and even occasionally erotic, in a religious context, is a mixture very characteristic of the later Middle Ages. The popularity of grotesques declined after ca. 1350, though they still occur in the fifteenth century, particularly in sculpture and woodcarving. At that time they were usually called babewyneries (T&H) or babewyns (Benton) (from Italian babunio 'baboon'), because predominant in many animal scenes were monkeys and apes. (T&H 110; Benton 10) For the symbolism of grotesques, see chapter Gargoyles.  
Religious Opposition to Grotesque Statuary
Gargoyles and grotesques were very expensive compared to their lack of functional use in religious ceremony. They caused arguments because most of them are too far away to see them properly, but were carved with high concern about details. And if they could be seen properly, they also were reasons for criticism, as for example voiced by St. Bernard of Clairvaux (1090-1153) of the Cistercian order:  
"What are these fantastic monsters doing in the cloisters under the very eyes of the brothers as they read? What is the meaning of these unclean monkeys, strange savage lions and monsters? To what purpose are here placed these creatures, half beast, half man? I see several bodies with one head and several heads with one body. Here is a quadriped with a serpent's head, there a fish with a quadruped's head, then again an animal half horse, half goat ... Surely if we do not blush for such absurdities we should at least regret what we have spent on them."  
(Online 1)
Clairvaux thought the monks to be distracted by gargoyles. But critics like Clairvaux were in the minority. Most of the clergy was convinced of the use or at least "beauty" of gargoyles and grotesques.  
It seems, that in Gothic grotesque sculpture most depictions were connected with the temptations, and with sins and sinners. After all, a warning can be interpreted into almost all gargoyles and grotesques. But for all this, one should never forget that with gargoyles everything is possible: they could also be simple devices for drainage, allowing the sculptors to have a little fun, to caricature their contemporaries. Sometimes it even seems as if there was a competition to create the most implausible gargoyle. Today this, or a competition with a similar aim, is more certainly the case. (Benton 122) So the popularity of gargoyles never really declined. Did they in medieval times maybe frighten the people, today they amuse them.  
Benton, Janetta Rebold (1997). Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings. New York: Abbeville Press.
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Stone, Lawrence (1955). Sculpture in Britain. Middlesex: Penguin.
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Sedgwick, John P., Jr. (1991). Gargoyle. In: Encyclopedia Americana , p. 307. Dansbury, Conn.
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"gargs.jpg": Benton, Janetta Rebold (1997). Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings, page 16
greenman.jpg: Benton, Janetta Rebold (1997). Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings, page
"gargfig8.jpg": Benton, Janetta Rebold (1997). Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings, page 85
"wssrmnn.jpg": Benton, Janetta Rebold (1997). Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings, page 73
"drachen.jpg": Benton, Janetta Rebold (1997). Holy Terrors: Gargoyles on Medieval Buildings, page 113

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