What are the gargoyles of Notre-Dame de Paris for?

What are the gargoyles of Notre-Dame de Paris for?

Placed at the ends of the gutters, the gargoyles are the protruding parts of the building. These Gothic creatures protect Notre-Dame de Paris from bad weather and deter evil from entering the cathedral.

On the heights of the cathedral, strange gargoyles populate Notre-Dame de Paris. Survivors of the 2019 fire, these stone beings have been watching over the building for seven hundred years. Latin gurgulio, gargoyle means throat or mouth. In 1210, forty-seven years after the construction of Notre-Dame began, the architects decided to replace the channels with sculptures of gargoyles. These allow rain runoff to be channeled away from the walls. Designers give these creatures strong protective power. They repel the wrath of heaven and all forms of evil from the walls of the cathedral. Beyond simple practical use, gargoyles are the guardians of Notre-Dame.

Gargoyles, but not only that…

Gargoyles are often confused with the chimeras which also adorn the building. Unlike gargoyles, these do not date from the Middle Ages, but from the 19th century. They were born from the imagination of Viollet-le-Duc. Between 1844 and 1864, the famous architect undertook major renovation work following a collective awareness of the dilapidation of the monument. In 1831, Victor Hugo published his novel Notre Dame de Paris in which he alerts the French to the pitiful state of their heritage. The book gives impetus to the project.

Viollet-le-Duc restored the cathedral from top to bottom and borrowed from the romanticism of Victor Hugo his nostalgia for old Paris. He creates false medieval sculptures, which are reminiscent of the stone monsters or gorgonians mentioned by the writer. Taken from the imaginary bestiary, these creatures resemble demonic animal figures with personified expressions.

A part of the soul of Notre-Dame

Leaning, looking thoughtful on a balustrade of the north tower, The Stryge is one of the best-known chimeras. This little horned devil, almost touching with his dreamy attitude, perfectly embodies the atmosphere of the capital depicted by Victor Hugo or Charles Baudelaire in The spleen of Paris (1869).

The Stryge inspired a number of artists, such as the engraver Charles Meryon who gave the first graphic representations of Viollet-le-Duc’s sculptures, producing a close-up of the chimera in 1853, offering at the same time a breathtaking view of Paris (you can recognize the Saint-Jacques Tower there). This engraving was particularly appreciated by Baudelaire and Hugo; the work was also added in 1877 to the illustrations of the cathedral novel.

The same year as Charles Meryon, Charles Nègre photographed The Stryge and delivers a historical and resolutely modern image of 19th century Paris. The photo is today kept in the collections of the Musée d’Orsay, while the engraving has joined the prints department of the Bibliothèque nationale de France. You can obviously contemplate the original sculpture by Viollet-le-Duc in the open air, just look up in the direction of the north tower of Notre-Dame.

Gargoyles and chimeras reproduced after the fire

If the legendary Stryge was spared from the flames, this is not the case for all the sculptures. Certain gargoyles and chimeras are today identically remade in thousand-year-old stones, extracted from quarries in the Oise. The pelican, the alchemist and even the dog-headed woman have been completely recreated. It’s difficult to separate the new sculptures from the old ones!

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