About Gargoyles and Gothic Down Pipes

Consider the photo of the stone dragon-lion above. If you look carefully, you’ll notice it is protruding from a parapet wall, and has its mouth open. This was a popular rainwater discharge strategy in medieval times, when powerful bishops liked a solid edge to their roofs, but had to manage the pooled water.

Wealthy aristocrats also installed gargoyles on their castles too, because that meant there were no down pipes for their enemies to climb. The stonemason’s fertile imagination was the only limit to their appearance. Some were fearsome hobgoblin evil spirits. While others were somewhat risqué to put it mildly.

What’s Hiding in The Name of That Gargoyle?

The old French word for a ‘throat’ was ‘gargoyle’, as in the sound of water gurgling down a pipe. We recall that association when we gargle an antiseptic mouthwash in the hope of keeping COVID-19 away. However, that is not a medical recommendation, as we are roofers and eavestrough specialists.

The water spout concealed in the throat of that lion would have been one of many on all four sides of an enclosed parapet. Remember, they assembled those magnificent cathedrals and castles from pre-carved blocks of sandstone. And they knew free-flowing rainwater would erode the detail over a few decades.

Gothic Gargoyles Are Minor Miracles of Engineering

Those stonemasons of old must have been brave to climb up rickety ladders, and lean over parapets. They would have carved a water channel through the body of the lion, and placed it over a parapet opening so the water would flow freely through.

We can safely assume it looked down from a high elevation, and needed a long reach so the water was far away from the wall, and less likely to splash it on its ‘gargling’ way to the ground below. Those stonemasons’ attention to detail is truly amazing.

Now About Modern Parapets and Waterspouts

Architects still design parapet roofs, water still pools there, and they still need to lead it away. Some industrial buildings use protruding pipes, although adding a down spout is far more elegant.

The drawing below features just such a box gutter arrangement. However, the roofer has added an overflow outlet, just in case debris fills the box. That overflow may not be as elegant as that carved lion, but we’ll bet the job completed a whole lot sooner!

Box Gutter and Parapet Overflow Pipe (Image Bill Bee BY CC 3.0)

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A Gargoyle Keeping Watch from On High (Image Jon Sullivan BY Public Domain)