Note From Jon


Monday, May 7, 2007

Gargoyle Tour at the National Cathedral

A couple of weeks ago I took the Gargoyle Tour at the National Cathedral with MeetInDC and realized I'd learned some fun facts which I realized I had little chance of remembering. Since that became the impetus for starting this blog I figured it should be the first real post.

Here are some of the things I learned (as best I can remember - this is the internet, so it could be wrong. I am only infallible in person... usually):
- The National Cathedral is an Episcopalian Cathedral

- Gargoyles are a subset of "Grotesques", which is the more general name for decorative sculpture used to direct water away from a Cathedral to preserve the rock. Gargoyles typically have a hole bored through the rock through which the water is funnelled (gargoyles sometimes would have a channel on the top if it wasn't possible drill a hole through the rock). Then half of the block would be carved and the other half would be embedded directly as the wall of the Cathedral.

- Non-gargoyle grotesques (which don't have to be hideous at all - some grotesques are in the form of angels) often came in pairs at the base of "Gablets" (essentially small gables in the Cathedral structure)

Here are some of the more memorable grotesques we saw on the tour:

In Memoriam:

These two bare blocks are the only undecorated grotesques on the Cathedral. They are a memorial to the only stone carver who fell from scaffolding and died while working on the Cathedral. These blocks on the Gablet were to be his next project. None of the other workers knew what he had planned for them and asked to leave them blank in his memory.

The Boss:

This is a Gargoyle depicting one of the stone carvers bosses (apparently with the bosses' blessing - although he hadn't seen the design). The boss has a cloven hoof coming out of one shoe and a devil's tail. We were informed the boss took the joke rather well and the slide show on the tour had a photo of the boss with his gargoyle.

The Grandsons:

These boys' grandparents donated the money for these gargoyles. The grandson on the right is the good grandson with a halo and schoolbooks (or it could be a writing slate) while the bad grandson is on the left with a broken halo and his hand in the cookie jar. Apparently the grandparents never told the grandsons which was which.

The Whistling Mason:

We were informed that one of the stone carvers had a habit of whistling at the girls from the Cathedral's school. Somehow rather than a pink slip, he got a grotesque in his honor... in full whistling repose.

Clubs and cubs:

The left gargoyle consists of two hands gripping the pipe like a golf club. The right gargoyle is a bear looking through the St. Louis Arch.

Yes there is indeed a grotesque of Darth Vader on the National Cathedral (high up one of the towers as seen from the north side). It was apparently the winning idea of student who entered a competition in the 80s for a new design.

Not Shown:

A couple of the more memorable ones that I couldn't get pictures of include a hippie sitting on a bag of marijuana, and a couple of robotic stone cameras that are supposedly pointed at the Russian Embassy.

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