Jester the Gargoyle

Jester Waterspout fresco cropped

I often wonder what stonemasons of the Middle Ages were thinking while they crafted the various waterspout figurines (usually known as gargoyles) that decorate cathedrals all across Europe.

In the evolution of the downspout, the fantastical Medieval carvings, some meant to ward off evil spirits, but most seemingly created to amuse, stand out as the most interesting and unique.

Even though the Greeks had downspouts, theirs weren’t carved with much of a sense of humor, unlike this jester-figurine on Santa Maria Domkyrkan (St. Mary’s Cathedral), in Visby, Sweden, who is laughing at someone or something. 

Apparently, I’m not the first person to question the stonemasons and the meaning of their art. In the 12th century, St. Bernard of Clairvaux was famous for speaking out against gargoyles:

What are these fantastic monsters doing in the cloisters before the eyes of the brothers as they read? What is the meaning of these unclean monkeys, these strange savage lions, and monsters? To what purpose are here placed these creatures, half beast, half man, or these spotted tigers? 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.  

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