Gargoyles and grotesques can be rather disturbing to look at but they play an important role in the construction of old buildings. The stonework which can be seen on the Washington National Cathedral are a distinctive feature of this interesting building. The difference between the two decorations is simple, a gargoyle was originally used to control and direct rainwater as it flows off a roof, while a grotesque figure stands only as an ornament and decorative piece. Both are said to ward off evil spirits and there are a staggering 112 gargoyles that scatter the Washington National Cathedral building, with a further 3,000 grotesques and carvings.
They represent a wide range of mysterious creatures from dragons through to monkeys and they can represent both real and mythical creatures. They were commonly used by everyone from the Greeks and the Romans to the Ancient Egyptians and the Etruscans, although it isn’t clear who actually invented them. The monstrous looking creatures at the Washington National Cathedral can be seen on the outside of the building, but they actually extend backwards deep into the walls with many of the gargoyle stones weighing hundreds of pounds.
The Darth Vader stone was created by Jay Hill Carpenter and Patrick J. Plunkett after Christopher Rader designed it for the National Geographic World Magazine contest in the 1980s and it won third place. As this grotesque represents a villainous character, he sits on the north side of the cathedral building, which is the darkest area and it is particularly hard to spot with most people using binoculars to see it.
The Southwest Tower is home to some of the most famous gargoyles and grotesques such as The Humanoid Griffin, the Horse Skeleton, the Bat and the Pan, all of which have wide, gaping mouths and are fairly easy to spot.
The classic gothic architecture of the building is fascinating to explore and both scary and whimsical decorative features can be discovered. The stain glass windows give the cathedral some colour, while the interior and exterior of the building ensure that the cathedral is every photographer’s dream building to capture on film. It can be hard to decipher what each gargoyle and grotesque represents, as many of the figurines look very similar. There are ugly monsters, griffins and dragons that represent the mythical creatures, while real animals such as lions, dogs, rabbits and snakes also feature.
The Washington National Cathedral is a fascinating building to visit, and is regularly featured as a must visit historical sight in Washington DC, with the gargoyles and grotesques that line the walls ensuring that everyone who visits will be enraptured by its unique architecture