Grotesques, Gargoyles, Divine Architecture and Sacred Geometry: A Spiritual Mechanism

Grotesques, Gargoyles, Divine Architecture
and Sacred Geometry: A Spiritual Mechanism

by Charles E. S. Fairey, 2014


Before reading this article, please familiarise yourself with the two following articles about the 'Green Man' and the 'Sheela Na Gig'.



I believe there is another explanation for the figures known as ‘Sheela na gigs’ being carved upon the outside of religious buildings, such as churches; that links these sexually open figures with that of ‘Green Men’ and also that of other ‘Grotesques’ and also ‘Gargoyles’.

In my yet to be published ‘The Ancient Trees of Crewe & Nantwich, 2014’, I suggested that the ‘Green Man’ might represent that:-

“the vines / leaves / branches growing from the mouth, nostrils and ears [of the ‘Green Man’] represent the Word of God, veiled in parable and allegory, as many medieval religious manuscripts show leaves and branches erupting from mouths of men, maybe representing the Divine words of God, emanating from the scripture;”

and that:-

"‘Green Men’ are often found on boundaries or crossing places, i.e. doorways or next to arches within the interior of the church, which separate the unconsecrated, and the holy areas from the most holy. The sprouting tendrils of vegetation from the mouth, nose and ears, may also indicate another reason for their existence. Do they represent the spewing out of evil or unclean thoughts, words, etc, from the souls of whom are worshipping God inside the church, so that they might be viewed as cleansed by the Spirit of God, or for the same reason from the most holy areas, much like Muslims wash themselves before entry into their mosques; albeit in an allegorical context, so that once they enter they are cleansed, and when they leave the sanctuary of God, they are renewed spiritually, to go back out into the natural or devil’s realm around, and their position on doorways or spiritual boundaries might be to guard those inside or entering God’s House from the Devil outside, and spew him back out from those worshipping inside, i.e. banishing the darkness from the light within. The Devil was often thought to live out in the wilds of nature, tempting humans, much like he tempted Eve in the Garden of Eden, or Christ in the desert, and earlier pagan mythologies were often linked to places outside in the natural world.”

However, if we now look at some of that detail I wrote about the possible true meaning of the ‘Green Man’, and remembering that these carvings appear inside Christian buildings and must have formed part of that religion and part of the Christian teaching of the Medieval Christian Faith, and those very few exceptions that predate its introduction to this and other countries, are ignored. We find a shared theme between the ‘Green Man’, the ‘Sheela na gig’, and other ‘Grotesques’ and ‘Gargoyles’.

That shared theme is, that these devices of Christian Church Architecture must represent the spewing out of something, as all share a common theme, either things spewing from mouths, nostrils, ears, eyes, and the sexual organs, or to scare away evil spirits!

I said above that ‘Green Men’ are often found on boundaries, often between the holiest places, or at entranceways into the building and that ‘Green Men’ are often spewing leaves and foliage near to entranceways. Therefore ‘Green Men’ and their apertures may represent the Divine words of God, emanating from the scripture, as well as spewing out the sinful and unclean thoughts of those entering and inside. The other ‘Grotesques’ which are also found on the external structure, as well as ‘Sheela na gigs’, who often appear near openings or entranceways, then these too, must exist to spiritually cleanse the person entering and those inside.

So thus, if the ‘Sheela na gig’ represents the same thing, a cleansing device, i.e. the spewing out of unclean thoughts from that which is most holy, the House of God, and the Christian view of the sinful lust of women, then so too must ‘Grotesques’ and ‘Gargoyles’. These too, are mainly found on the external structure of the building, and must represent the spewing out of unclean and sinful thoughts, and exist to spiritually cleanse the person entering and those inside.

‘Grotesques’ are carved monster like beings, often eerie and otherworldly, and are often made up of body parts of different animals, whether earthly or imaginary.

‘Gargoyles’ are carved figures in stone, metal or timber which serve as water spouts, to direct water from the roofs of mainly religious buildings down to the ground, whilst protecting the side of the building.

A ‘Green Man’ at Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire; a ‘Grotesque’ at Swynnerton Church, Staffordshire; and a ‘Gargoyle’ at Astbury Church, Cheshire 


Now these ‘Gargoyles’ usually transmit the water through their mouths, however there are examples of other apertures of the body being used, and most often than not these ‘Gargoyles’ are in a terrifying monstrous guise, or sometimes comedic, and thus represent not just the protection of the Church from evil spirits, as commonly believed, but maybe also the spewing out of something.

What better way to spew out the evil or sin of those within than with a demon itself, or spew out of the sacred space those demons being carried by humans, as was the common medieval thought of affliction if someone suffered from a disease or ailment, whether mental or physical.

These ‘Gargoyles’ albeit in stone form, present a perfect way of cleansing and purifying the church and the people inside and hence the consecrated ground all the way around the church with the cleansing substance used for baptism, which is that life giving liquid, water.

This outpouring of cleansing water would then help to continuously baptise the sacred space around the church and hence develop over time, a stronger and stronger spiritual boundary, created by stone demons against true earthly dwelling demons.

If we then link this with the preference of the religious establishments to build churches towards the heavens and thus construct towers and spires, could the intervention of that great and terrifying force of energy, the lightning bolt, often viewed as a link between God and man, the Heavens and the Earth, give all that water which has cleansed those inside and consecrated the surrounding earth, the seal of God’s mighty power, a rod of lightning, further sanctifying, protecting and saving those inside, and those resting inside and out.

We also have to remember that the idea of purgatory was ever prevalent in the minds of the people of the Middle Ages, and famine and plagues were rife, life was short, death was all around, and the people needed as much hope as they could find. Often this hope was and still is in the belief of something spiritual. In their case it was largely Christianity in Medieval Europe, and thus they turned to the Church, to save their souls, and the Church made sure that they feared those beings which they didn’t understand, those apparitions of other worlds, whether conjured up by the mind or existent in some sort of other reality, which is still not explained.

The Medieval Church also looked after people’s wellbeing, caring for them when sick or providing sustenance for them when poor, or shelter for them when travelling, or care after death, whether rich or poor, whether via being buried in consecrated ground outside, or in their own chapel inside, with candles and prayers, lit and sung.

Of course there were also those viewed as forsaken, and those same ‘Grotesques’ and ‘Gargoyles’, and the Light, the Word of God, would either keep them from the world of Heaven, or teach them penitence, to ask for forgiveness, and then hopefully be saved, and allowed to enter God’s World again. And of course keep the Devil and his demons well away from the sacred space, because of its grotesque protections, cleansing grotesques (‘Green Men’ and ‘Sheela na gigs’) and gargoyles, and their baptism by water falling from the Heavens and blessed by the Church / House of God itself, spewing the cleansing and purifying waters, creating a protective barrier. As well as the Light of the Word of God emanating out from the leaf and foliate spewing ‘Green Men’, the grotesques, and other religious icons, statues, roof bosses, stained glass, priests, choir and congregation, and the occasional lightning rod, to empower the sacred building, graveyard and the land it serves by the Hand of God himself.

‘The Creation of Adam’ by Michelangelo, Sistine Chapel 


There is another inference too, that the holy men and the congregation in the church protected by this Light, and those speaking its Word, empowering that Word through viewing all the religious iconography, even the gruesome demonic grotesques, strengthen that Word as it echoes around the interior sacred space, and those religious devices and symbols, further reinforcing the mighty Word of God, and the size, grandeur, magnificence of some of these houses of God, especially when compared to the usual home of a medieval person.

And that Word which is the Light then travels through the openings of the creatures which pass from the holiest areas, to the less holy, to the external openings, and out through the grotesques and gargoyles on the outside, and through the stained glass, to the World around, sending the Light all around the land and world, so that all might hear the Divine Word of God.

Those same stone creatures teach all those who are from the Underworld that the Light is mighty and unstoppable, and with each new church built, extended, rebuilt, added to, and with each new embellishment into the interior or onto the exterior of the church, and the continuous embellishment over the centuries, and the holy men, the clergy, the choir, the congregation, listening, learning, singing, seeing, smelling, the Light would grow stronger and stronger, within and without, cleansing, baptising and purifying humanity, the land and the world all around.

And those evil beings which are thought to be scared by the stone creatures or feel that they are their own kind, yet converted, carry the word of the scripture from inside the holy edifices all around, so that those evil beings might cower into conversion, and hence more grotesques may be added to the House of God.

What better protection than to be protected by those same demons that fell, who are now turned to stone and set up on high, to guard against their like, and the process continued, of the salvation of mankind and possibly of purgatory and hell also, and of all whom dwell there.

* * * * * * * 

Of course all this matters upon the belief of the reader, whether Christian or not, however, we must all remember, that the majority of the population in the Middle Ages, was of a Catholic Christian background, and hence they believed, and many of them were our ancestors, whether they understood this spiritual mechanism or not, the masons and religious hierarchy must have, and all these devices, as well as the form of the building’s architecture, often alluding to the heavens, and ancient divine architecture and sacred geometry, were all employed to bring light to the New Jerusalem, which had been constructed and now existed across Medieval Europe.

Illuminating Sunset over Lichfield Cathedral 


What better ancient device to conquer the world of the pagan deities with, than a spiritual mechanism of the cleansing, purification and baptism of the soul and the land with the Light, the Word of God, albeit in a long lost very allegorical way.

The use of divine architecture, sacred geometry, symbols and unusual creatures, as well as the scripture kept inside, which essentially the whole of the latter was deemed useless without, built upon the foundations of the early Christian Church, often copying early churches, and borrowing ideas from other cultures and beliefs, whether ancient or historic, to empower the new religion, until it was of such a might, it would stand the test of time, like the yew trees which stand around many churches, existent for hundreds if not thousands of years, and hark to an earlier less dominating pastoral spiritual path.

In an allegorical sense, how could the religion ever fail, the Light, the Word sent into the World with such enthusiasm and massive construction projects to the Glory of God, existent across the land, which essentially helped build the continuing civilisation. For once they are there it is very hard for them to be completely destroyed, and the story of the religion to ever be forgotten, and they would have hoped that Christianity through this embellishment with buildings as fine as the cathedrals and abbeys across the World, would be eternal, and maybe it always will be.

If we look at the ancient Egyptians, we still remember them, and know so much about them, that even in thousands of year's time, they as well as Christianity will be remembered, if not still the gods / goddesses and the God respectively worshipped. Even a myth when embellished beyond a story, like King Arthur and Camelot, may live forever in the minds of the creator’s first reader's descendants, and our descendants in a millennia’s time.

Of course over time, with the dissolution of the monasteries, the persecution of the Catholics, the puritanical ‘white washing’ of much that was or close to idolatry, and the subsequent destruction of our spiritual nature slowly ever since, no wonder that these days the ‘Green Men’ and ‘Sheela na gigs’ are no longer understood and subject to much conjecture.

York Minster 


That which still holds the viewer with a sense of awe and astonishment in these ancient and historic Houses of God, are seldom or no longer understood, even the magnificence and sheer size of many of the cathedrals and abbeys leave the visitor with complete disbelief that they were built by human hands, or how could they build such magnificent and so intricately and ornately decorated structures that we seldom create today, then again what would a medieval mind think!

We are still trying to work out what Stonehenge is all about, and our ancestors were puzzled over that for millennia, I wonder if we will ever figure out something which has perplexed humanity for so long, possibly if we time travel we will destroy our ignorance, but also probably our wonder at the past and future at the same time. Science may one day have all the answers, but how many will there be who decide not to know or follow the teachings of Science, and remain with their hope and child-like wonder of the world.

"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour." 

William Blake, Auguries of Innocence 


Much of these religious symbols and devices inside these Homes of God, and their inherent purpose have been lost, and an air of mystery looms, which gives way to much myth creating and theorising. But maybe that is the true mystery, that it is a mystery, and every viewer should engage with these wholesome mysteries, to think for themselves, and come up with their own thoughts, ideas and stories, because after all the theory I have presented above is at the end of the day, just a view I wrote that I hold with many others at the current time, and that may still change or expand, or be rewritten or thrown away, but I think the true essence of the mystery is, “what do you really think?” 




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