Gargoyles on Canterbury Cathedral

Canterbury Cathedral is a masterpiece of architecture, engineering, and design. It’s possibly the most beautiful structure in the entire city, and certainly one of the most striking.


The Christ Church Gate is probably the part of the cathedral that people are most familiar with. The magnificent Grade I-listed main entrance to the Cathedral Precincts is part of a Scheduled Ancient Monument and has recently been the subject of extensive conservation and restoration work.


Now, thanks to the extraordinary work of the Cathedral’s in-house teams, visitors will be able to see the Gate’s breath-taking features restored to glory. These include intricate carvings of mythical beasts, flora and fauna, angels, heraldic shields, and the great central boss, comprised of a large rose surrounded by a procession of animals.


These carvings are remarkable, and show the amazing attention to detail on the part of the Cathedral’s stonemasons and craftsmen. Stonemasonry is nowhere near as common a profession as it once was, and few buildings are decorated as ornately as they used to be. Features like gargoyles and carved fantastical beasts are sadly a rarity these days, but the Cathedral celebrates their fantastic stonework embellishments whenever they can.


An interesting feature is the carved gargoyles and grotesques that adorn the cathedral. You might see any strange carving and think of it as a gargoyle but the truth is that there is actually a strong distinction between designs.


A gargoyle is a carving that serves a very specific function and the clue is in the name. “Gargoyle” comes from the Old French word gargouille, which means throat and which is where we derive our English word “gargle”. A gargoyle, therefore, is a carved creature attached to a building that acts as a kind of drain pipe, directing water away from the building through a spout in its mouth, and a grotesque is any kind of decorative carving of human or animal that doesn’t serve any other purpose apart from sitting there and looking pretty – or not, as the case may be.

Originally published on Page 16 of Canterbury CommunityAd Magazine, Febuary 2023 – Issue 44

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