Gargoyles and Chimeras of Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris

The best-known chimera is le Stryge.
The best-known chimera – guardian demon – is le Stryge.

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.

Architect Eugene Violet-le-Duc playfully added his own image for one of the gargoyles.
Architect Eugene Violet-le-Duc playfully added his own image for one of the gargoyles.

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.

A chimera on Notre Dame Cathedral's balcony
A chimera on Notre Dame Cathedral’s balcony

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.”

Chimera and apostles on Notre Dame Cathedral
Chimera and apostles on Notre Dame Cathedral

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).”

Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
inside of Notre Dame Cathedral
inside of Notre Dame Cathedral
stained-glass window, Notre Dame Cathedral
stained-glass window, Notre Dame Cathedral

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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

Video: Gargoyles and Chimeras of Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris  

    1. Thank you for your comments, Deb. I learned about the gargoyles being used for drainage after I started teaching. I just discovered the origin of ‘le Stryge’s name’ after I began research for this post. Fascinating, hideous creatures.

  1. Stunning photos, Judy! And memories.. I remember very clearly climbing those towers for the first time as a child, seeing the statues lined up on the roof, all looking out over Paris.. except the one, of course.

      1. *chuckles* I remember.. it wasn’t the easier climb even way back… but it is a perspective you just don’t get any other way.

        comment from earthrider to Sue Vincent:
        True enough. 🙂

    1. Your photos of Notre Dame were pretty amazing, littlelilly. That climb up to the tower is a tight one up the winding staircase. Once you get to the top, that’s quickly forgotten because the view is incredible. Thank you for your comment..

  2. I Missed seeing the chimeras. I only saw Notre Dame from afar. I wish I went closer. In a way I did through your beautiful pictures. A visual delight. Thanks.

  3. Great photographs, Judy. Did you take all of them? I love the rose window in the cathedral. And I’d never seen pictures of the modern Paris skyline — I didn’t even know they had skyscrapers.

    1. Glad you liked the photos, Charles. Yes, I did take all of them. That stained-glass window is one of my favorites. Despite my lack-of-skills on lighting, I was happy I got a good shot of that window in the cathedral. Paris is a wonderful mix of old and new buildings.

    1. Kate, I know your fascination with architecture and really appreciate your comments. I hadn’t known of that connection between artist Charles Meryon and the chimera, le Stryge, until I checked out the history of the grotesques and the church.

  4. I posed for several of those chimeras myself– this post really brought back memories… : P

    This is a wonderful post, my dear Judy. It helps explain your recent nomination for the Sunshine Blogger Award, where the nominator described you as bringing “sunbeams to my thinking.” That is exactly what you are– a bringer of sunbeams.

    Loved the photos and fascinating history here– many thanks, you delightful sunbeam, you!! : )

    1. Now, Mark, there’s no way I’m buying that story. They bear no resemblance to you. 😆

      You have no idea how much you brighten my day with your thoughtful comments. Thank you.

  5. I have to admit I always hated gargoyles!!! 😦 I spent most of my childhood in a village where there was a Saxon church next door to my school, and we all had to walk through the churchyard to get to the school gate. So seeing the church was a daily thing, and often my friends and I would to a mischievous run round the church on our way home through all the ancient grave stones. I can remember looking up at the gargoyles looking down at me, and wishing I could get up on a ladder and knock them off the corners so I wouldn’t have to see them any more!! I did have some knowledge even at 10 years old what they represented, because my dad was a man very interested in history and he’d told me quite a bit about them. But I really hated what most of them represented, especially the thought that they were used to remind people on their way to church of the evil that may be lurking around them that they might have forgotten about during the week. I don’t think I would have been so easily persuaded if I had lived in that time, and I’m sure someone would have wanted to lock me up for all my disobedience! 😀

    But those gargoyles in the video (if they had eyes to see) sure have an enviable view from that holy building! 😉

    1. Suzy, you are a rebel. 🙂 For many though, I’m sure those gargoyles provided all the convincing the faithful needed to confess NOW and shape up.

      The gargoyles do have an exceptional view. I was on level with some of them and Paris is beautiful – whether it’s seen from the balcony of the Notre Dame or elsewhere.

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