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  • Writer's pictureParisian Niche

Paris is Really... Grotesque!

Gotcha!! Of course Paris is gorgeous and magnificent. It's also filled with quite a bit of grotesques (and gargoyles, of course!). What do we mean and what are the differences between these petits monsters? Well, read on P'Nicher...

These days, we know that gargoyles serve much more purpose than just a decorative addition. In fact, the word "gargoyle" comes from the French word gargouille, meaning throat. If we now start to imagine the word "gargle," gargoyle as a word makes a lot of sense for what it is - a monster gargling water through its throat (preserving the building it protrudes from).

But how DID we get to these gargoyles and grotesques? Well, it's actually right out of French folk lore. Think thrones-esque folk lore / legend, but make it Parisian...

Ok, picture it: we are in France at some point during the 7th century. We're a simple fisherman looking for our daily bread (fish) in the Seine River along the Rouen countryside.

All of a sudden a dragon causes a ruckus in the water... Waves! Waterspouts! Our small sailing vessels are overturned and Gargouille, this mythical dragon beast, has devoured us whole. Quel Bummer.

It gets worse. Gargouille is also grabbing our cattle and townspeople wading along the marshes as well... But wait - there's more! Now Gargouille is flooding our petit villages, leading to many deaths and much destruction.

Who's a 7th century French villager gonna call? Dragon-Busters!


Enter Romanus (that's Saint Romain to you and me). Our guy strode into town on a mission - and a mission.

You see, he made a deal with the locals that he'd rid them of the dragon if they converted to Christianity. Uhm, sign here, please!

Conversions complete, Romanus began making signs of the cross, conquering and ridding the town and waters of the beast... But...

The dragon's head was unable to be destroyed. What to do, what to do?!

They simply severed the head of the dragon and mounted it to the newly built and named Romanus church. As one does.

This scary feature was a signal to warn off other dragons and beasts.

Then, it began to rain. And Rain...

Water flowed heavily down the roof, into La Gargouille’s beastly dragon head and out of his mouth, thus moving away from the sacred building. This sight inspired a surveying medieval architect, who was able to see how this can item protect architecture - the birth of the gargoyle.

The church used these gargoyles as more than protection. Remembering that the vast majority of parishioners were illiterate, the church employed these monsters as a bit of fear tactic.

The clergy and architects used these visual elements to represent hell and its horrors in order to drive people into the church, and ultimately salvation.

The "marketing" did not stop there. These creatures were used to draw pagans in to the church as well.

It seemed to work, as the pagans felt more welcomed into the church, and in fact many pagan rituals that were once practiced by "heathens" were ultimately absorbed by the church.


Of course, some of the best gargoyles are found atop the gothic creation, Paris' Notre Dame Cathedral, constructed (in the beginning at least) under the watchful eye of Bishop Maurice de Sully.

She was completed in 1345, and by then, dozens of limestone gargoyles dotted her exterior walls.

What does all of have to to do with being "grotesque?" Stay with me, P'Nichers...

To properly understand grotesques, we will need to jump forward several hundred years in time to arrive at our goth creatures.

Let's hop aboard our (now much more well behaved) dragon / time machine for the sake of this post...

(Listen, if people can ride dragons on TV, so can we on a blog).

We've now arrived at the 1800's (and boy are our wings tired?!)

Sorry... dragon humor that Gargouille couldn't resist!

Notre Dame Cathedral has now sadly fallen into a state of terrible disrepair.

Hope was not lost, however. With the publication of Victor Hugo's Hunchback of Notre Dame, a public outcry to save the beloved cathedral was launched.

If you recall our post about the statues of Notre Dame, the name Viollet-le-Duc will ring your (church) bell...

It was under Viollet-le-Duc's leadership that grotesques (also called Chimera) were lovingly created and installed.

Unlike the gargoyles, these grotesques do not protrude from the cathedral's external walls. Rather, their unique and monstrous silhouettes adorn and line the Galerie des Chimères, the balcony connecting Notre Dame's two iconic bell towers.

Also unlike gargoyles, these whimsical grotesques have no function other than purely decorative, harking upon the tales and legends of the medieval ages.

Each has their own unique story and name and continues to guard the cathedral while also gazing lovingly over Paris. What a gig if you can get it!


Of course time (and the huge fire of April 2019) have done quite a number on these statues.

Should you feel inclined, you could donate toward their repair and upkeep (I am not sponsored at all - just a P'Niche PSA.) You can find that information here as a list of items needing help (and how close they are to achieving each goal). This handsome pelican (called Corson) has already reached his goal - huzzah!

Like the rest of the world, P'Niche is terribly excited to see the ongoing renovations of Notre Dame Cathedral in anticipation for her grand unveiling and reopening in 2024 (ish?). Naturally, we will learn more about this sacred space and others, so we hope you will subscribe to the Parisian Niche to join us here again. In the coming weeks, I will also share my favorite church as well. What is your favorite gargoyle or grotesque in Paris? Let us know in the comments below et à bientôt!


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Oct 02, 2022

Also love, “TheysimplyseveredtheheadofthedragonandmountedittothenewlybuiltandnamedRomanuschurch. As one does.” 😅

Oct 02, 2022
Replying to

lol - glad you got a chuckle as well! 😄


Sep 29, 2022

Ha! Good one! "gotcha!" :) and... "Who's a 7th century French villager gonna call? Dragon-Busters!" Love it!

Sep 30, 2022
Replying to

So glad you "got it" chere amie! 😁

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