The term is from the Old French for "throat" or "gullet" and related to the word for "gargle." It was originally a projecting waterspout used in gothic architecture to throw water from the roof gutter or upper part of a building or tower. It protected the building by throwing water away from the walls or foundations. The spouts eventually became known by their decorative figures. By the thirteenth century they were made of stone instead of wood. Gargoyles were soon built for decoration only and not for drainage. These carvings are usually fanciful and often grotesque. Gargoyles may represent wildly imaginative animal or human-like forms. The largest gargoyles project as much as three feet from their building. Gargoyles are found on many gothic cathedrals throughout Europe and on neo-gothic cathedrals of the Episcopal Church such as the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City and the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul in Washington, D.C.
Glossary definitions provided courtesy of Church Publishing Incorporated, New York, NY,(All Rights reserved) from "An Episcopal Dictionary of the Church, A User Friendly Reference for Episcopalians," Don S. Armentrout and Robert Boak Slocum, editors.