Looming from your city’s architecture, you know them when you see them: Gargoyles.
A hundreds of years old tradition, gargoyles are present in both modern and historic buildings and are a “must” for anyone going for that Gothic architectural style.
Gargoyles are so ingrained in pop culture you may not remember the first time you heard about them, but you know their name.
Because of their animated and sometimes comical ghoulish faces, gargoyles are a popular choice for tattoos.
There’s so much a person can do with these images- whether they want something scary, something fun, or something in between.
There are also no shortage of pop culture references to gargoyles, so you can always customize your design with a reference to your favorite movie, TV show, comic book or video game.
What exactly are gargoyles, and how did they get so widespread? What was their original purpose beyond a cool design?
Let’s explore the history of gargoyles, the meaning behind gargoyle tattoos, and the fun pop culture places we can find these creatures in.
What are Gargoyles?
Gargoyles are stone carvings of demonic creatures.
They usually have long ears, horns, or both.
They often have wings, but it is not a necessary part of the design. Gargoyles often wear menacing expressions, sometimes to an outrageous point where they look cartoon-ish.
While more recent building designs have gargoyles on many surfaces to add to their aesthetic, the original gargoyles served a purpose beyond decoration.
Gargoyles were installed on buildings as an aesthetically pleasing solution to a practical problem.
They divert water away from the buildings, which would otherwise dribble down the sides and erode the stone.
Pretty clever huh?
There have been different ways to divert water from buildings, including elaborate stone gutter systems, but nothing so popular as the gargoyle.
It is difficult to say where this began.
Gargoyles are often attributed to medieval architecture, but have been used in some form or another for much longer.
Ancient Egyptians used lion’s head carvings for this exact purpose.
Another Use for Gargoyles
These demonic carvings are often found on ornate Catholic churches- but why?
A church seems like it would be the last place to find such a thing.
For this, there are two explanations:
Fight Fire With Fire
In many cultures, using evil imagery was a way to feel protected against the evil itself.
It’s sort of a deterrent for demonic creatures when they see one of their own.
Maybe they are tricked by the gargoyle, thinking this territory is already owned by an evil force?
In either case, it is common practice in many faiths to use evil images to battle evil.
Warn the Sinners
In the churches of yesteryear, many practitioners were illiterate.
This meant the Catholic church had to make visual reminders of evil for their flock.
Churches in those times (and some would argue in modern times as well,) were fear-based.
Rather than inspiring their followers to be good because it feels good, demonic images encouraged people to be good “or else.”
Seeing an image of a would-be tormentor was enough to frighten people into avoiding a hellish fate.
Origins of the Word Gargoyle
The word “gargoyle” has two different explanations: the practical one and the fun one.
Let’s take a look at both.
The Root of the Word
The french word for gargoyle is “gargouille,” the root of which is “gar,” translating to “to swallow.”
Because the gargoyles had water spouting from their mouths, they made a throaty gurgling sound, which inspired the name.
Or did it?
The Legend of the Gargouille
In 1394, a story was published about Saint Romanus of Rouen.
In this legend, the gargouille is a terrible sea monster who lives in the Seine River and causes death and destruction in the town of Rouen by flooding the streets with water and tidal waves.
Anyone who didn’t die by drowning would be killed and eaten by the beast.
Saint Romanus decided to set out on a brave quest to slay the beast.
Taking two prisoners along with him to the banks of the Seine River, he sought out the gargouille.
Because the prisoners were condemned to death anyway, they didn’t mind coming along for the ride.
Once he encountered the great beast, Romanus made a cross with his fingers which subdued it.
He and the prisoners then dragged the monster into town, where people condemned it to be burned to death as punishment for killing so many with water.
All but the gargouille’s head was turned to ash.
When the head did not burn, they mounted the head of the beast on the church as a display of their triumph over evil.
So, while our first story is much more likely- but the second option is a thrill ride from start to finish.
Gargoyle Tattoos Meanings
Gargoyle tattoos can be used as your own way of triumphing over evil.
Maybe you’ve just rid yourself of a toxic presence in your life, maybe you’ve overcome addiction.
Maybe you see yourself as a protector in some way.
These would all be excellent ideas for a gargoyle tattoo.
You may also want to use this as an opportunity to celebrate your favorite gargoyle character in pop culture!
There are many to choose from, including:
The Demon Dogs from Ghost-busters
The “gatekeeper” and the “key-master” are born out of large stone figures that adorn the evil apartment building in this spooky comedy.
Show your love for a classic with a cool piece of ink!
If you’re a classic Disney fan, you’re likely familiar with Victor, Hugo and Laverne from The Hunchback of Notre Dame.
These little guys offer all the comedy of gargoyles with none of the spookier elements.
Gargoyles TV Series
Also produced by Disney, this animated series is a fond memory for all the 90’s kids out there.
While this 1994 show was aimed at young people, it explored some dark themes as living gargoyles defend the city of New York.
This likely started some kids on a path toward more serious offerings from the graphic novel and video game world.
Why not pay a little homage?
Yes, Darth Vader is a gargoyle! Or he is now.
In an attempt to bring young people into the church and have a little fun while under construction, the Washington National Cathedral put the call out for new gargoyle designs in the 80’s.
One child suggested a Darth Vader gargoyle and the rest is history!
Now the church is adorned with many funny little surprises, and there is information on their website if you’re in town and want to scout a few characters.
Maybe a Darth Vader gargoyle would be a cool design for your next tattoo?
Gargoyle Tattoo Designs
Black-work Gargoyle Tattoos
Neo-traditional Gargoyle Tattoos
Dot-work Gargoyle Tattoos
Illustrative Gargoyle Tattoos
New School Gargoyle Tattoo
Gargoyle Tattoo Ideas
Gargoyles are so timeless and versatile.
You can have them done in a traditional Gothic portrait style, have fun with a Neo-traditional piece, or anything you can dream of!
Looking for some original ideas?
Check out our gallery for the most striking gargoyle tattoos on the web!
Black & Grey Gargoyle Tattoos
Simple Gargoyle Tattoos
Double Gargoyles Tattoos
Small Gargoyle Tattoos
Sleeve Gargoyle Tattoos
Gargoyle Statue Tattoos
Moon & Gargoyle Tattoos
Gargoyle Tattoo Placement
Gargoyle Tattoos on Back
Gargoyle Tattoo on Chest