Almost every tourist who has ever climbed to the top of the North Tower of Notre-Dame de Paris has taken a photo of his or her companion leaning over the balustrade between two gargoyles (technically 'chimeras'), and surveying the streets below. It's the ultimate gargoyle photo-op. I'm surprised this author was able to photograph the gargoyles without a tourist leaning between them. I was only slightly disappointed to learn from this book that much of the stonework on this tower is nineteenth-century restoration by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, "started in 1845 to repair damage done to the cathedral during the Revolution." However, he did attempt to use molds of the originals.
Basically gargoyles are waterspouts, but to me they are proof that medieval stonemasons had a lively sense of humor--which they might have inherited from the Etruscans or the Egyptians, who also used animal-shaped stone waterspouts. Strictly speaking, gargoyles that do not spout water are known as 'grotesques' or 'chimeras.'
It surprised me to learn that gargoyles used to be brightly colored--oranges, reds, and greens were favored--and sometimes gilded. The author believes that "gargoyles may be survivals of pagan beliefs...incorporated into church decorations for superstitious reasons." I've read many a horror story based on this assumption, most notably "The Cambridge Beast" and "The Sheelagh-na-gig" by Mary Ann Allen.
Encounters between gargoyles and people are unique to the Cathedral of Saint John in Den Bosch, the Netherlands: "As a monstrous creature leaps out from the top of the buttress, the people cringe in terror, each one leaning back in an attempt to escape the attack of their horrible assailant." Americans tend to make pets of gargoyles, but that was not their original purpose. After all, midair is the reputed realm of demons (Ephesians 2:2).
Some of the gargoyles pictured in this book are laughing at us. A carved gargoyle-monk of the Old Cathedral of Saint-Etienne in Toul, France appears to be emptying the contents of a barrel onto his unsuspecting colleagues below. "Some [gargoyles] are so appealing that it is hard to imagine they were intended to be regarded as anything other than good creatures. Indeed, the gargoyles of Notre-Dame in Paris are even said to keep watch for drowning victims in the Seine."
This book is an enchanting collection of photographs, legends, and travelogue. If you ever intend to go gargoyle-hunting in Europe, make certain a copy of "Holy Terrors" is stored in your carry-on.