The Most Critical Feature Of A Gargoyle Is That It Is?
Answer: Water Diverting
Most of the time when you come across a gargoyle in the wild, you’ll typically find it on large (and old) churches, carved in the form of a fantastic or terrifying beast, and almost always made out of stone. Yet none of those things are a singular defining characteristic of gargoyles.
A gargoyle may be carved from stone, may be scary in appearance, and may be found on a church, but what makes gargoyles unique among such sculptures (otherwise known as grotesques due to their typically frightening appearance) is that gargoyles are more than just decorations. They are a functional bit of architecture designed to help channel water away from the walls and foundation of a building and, in the process, protect it. This was particularly important on old stone structures where heavy rainfall running down the sides of buildings would slowly but surely erode the mortar between the stones.
So if you see a statue perched on the corner of a building with a howling mouth that spits out a torrent of water during a rain storm, you’re looking at a gargoyle. If not, and the statue maintains a more composed appearance during the storm, you’re looking at a grotesque—the decorative cousin of the gargoyle.
Image courtesy of Colin.