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Dragon gargoyle at the Ulmer Münster, Ulm, Germany.

A Gargoyle is a architectural carving with a spout designed to convey water from a roof and away from the side of a building. Although the use of the figures of animals and humans for water spouts was practiced by ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans, the word gargouille and the practice of using dragons was adopted as a common theme on Churches and cathedrals during medieval times.[1]


The origin of the word gargoyle and its use by the Church can be traced back to a 7th century dragon known in France as gargouille or Goji. The dragon (gargouille) is said to have been appeared in the Seine River in France, terrorizing boats and flooding the region.[1] It is described as a "colossal monster with a long neck, a slender snout, and eyes greaming like moonstones".[2]

In legend, Romanus of Rouen (? - 640 AD), the former chancellor of the Merovingian king Clotaire II who was made bishop of Rouen and later venerated as Saint Romain, delivered the country around Rouen from the monster.[1] Although various version of the story exist, the bishop with the aid of a convict is said to have lured the creature to town where it was slaughtered by the townspeople and burned. The head and neck of the creature which remained were then mounted on the town's cathedral to display God's power. Subsequently, replicas were carved onto buildings, either as water spouts or ornamental figures referred to as grotesques.[3]

This event was the origin for the Bishops' Privilege, which allowed for the pardoning one prisoner condemned to death each year - a practice that lasted until 1790. The pardoned man or woman who carry the reliquary holding Romanus's relics in a procession.[4]

The Story

Two versions of the story read as follows.

There were wild swamps on the left bank of the Seine, opposite the old town, where a terrifying dragon lived who “devoured and destroyed people and beasts of the field”. The Rouennais named it “Gargouille”. Joined by a man condemned to death, having nothing to lose, they crossed the Seine and chased the dragon. When the Patron Saint caught it, Saint Romain drew the sign of the cross on the monster. Then he put his cape around it and dragged the beast to the parvis of the cathedral where the Gargouille was burnt to death.[5]
From the waters of the Seine, a monster with a great scaled head appears one day and starts mercilessly satureating the land until the entire region is flooded. The Archbishop of Rouen, St. Romain, with one volunteer, a prisoner on the death roll, sets out to conquer the monster. When St. Romain confronts the monster, he places two fingers one against another, forming a cross. This gesture immediately tames the Gargouille. It is led submissively back in town and burned to death.[6]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Gargoyle by Wikpedia
  2. Gargouille by the Fairrosa Cyber Library.
  3. Gargouille by Wikipedia.
  4. Romanus of Rouen by Wikipedia
  5. ROUEN, the gothic Cathedral Notre-Dame by French Moments
  6. .Shuker, K. Dragon: A Natural History. Simon & Schuster: New York, 1995