By Judy Berman
Parishioners in the late-1800s rushed to Mass, averting their eyes from the eerie, frightening creatures that protruded from the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.
The creatures had a practical purpose. They were gargoyles that were designed to carry water away from the roof and sides of the church to minimize damage from a rainstorm.
But their fearsome looks – especially the chimeras – were “especially useful in sending a strong message to the common people, most of whom were illiterate,” according to Wikipedia. Gargoyles have been viewed alternately as a concept of evil or as elements that scared evil spirits away from the church.
Much of the church’s religious imagery was destroyed in the 1790s during the French Revolution. In 1845, Architect Eugene Violet-le-Duc began extensive restoration to the cathedral, returning it to its original Gothic state. It took 25 years to complete.
Violet-le-Duc also added the chimeras, guardian demons. They are mythical or grotesque figures that some often describe as gargoyles. He wrote that restoration is a “means to re-establish (a building) to a finished state, which may in fact never have actually existed at any given time.”
There are hundreds of grotesques on the Notre Dame. The best-known chimera, le Stryge, is on an upper balcony and overlooks the city. “An 1852-54 series of etchings on Paris by artist Charles Meryon featured an image of this grotesque. He named the print Le Stryge (The Vampire) and catapulted the stone carving to fame.”
Meryon wrote of the image, “This monster which I have represented does exist, and is in no way a figment of imagination. I thought I saw in this figure the personification of Luxuria (Lust).”
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All photos in this post – with the exception of the video – were taken by Judy Berman or a family member, June 2013:
* The best known chimera – guardian demon – is le Stryge
* Architect Eugene Violet-le-Duc playfully added his own image for one of the gargoyles.
* A chimera on Notre Dame Cathedral’s balcony
* Chimera and apostles on Notre Dame Cathedral
* Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
* Inside of Notre Dame Cathedral
* stained-glass window, Notre Dame Cathedral
Etching – Chimera – Le Stryge (1853) – by Charles Meryon http://www.drawingsandprints.com/CurrentExhibition/detail.cfm?ExhibitionID=5&Exhibition=40
Video: Gargoyles and Chimeras of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris