Washington National Cathedral Cat Grotesques

Gargoyles and grotesques are a form of holy decoration. Grotesques are both decorative and functional. Grotesques deflect water away from the building while gargoyles are part of the guttering – water from the gutter flows through the gargoyles mouth and away from the building.

There are 112 grotesques and gargoyles (G & Gs) decorating Washington National Museum and some are cats! Great. The Church in general has been ambivalent about cats. The Russian Orthodox Church valued cats. Some Roman Catholic Popes loved cats but we know about the persecution of the cat by the Church for hundreds of years from the 1480s onwards. Cats often represented evil.

The cathedral publishes some information about their G & Gs. If you are interested you can read about the north wall cat grotesque (2nd one) by clicking on the following link: Washington National Cathedral North Side G & Gs (the link opens a new tab or window in your browser).

Below are three photographs of cat grotesques from this cathedral:

Cat grotesque washington national cathedral

The cat seems to be tormented by the birds.

Cat grotesque Washington National Museum

See cat on right – catching what seems to be a lizard. Photo by r.j.wagner

cat grotesque washington national cathedral

A fishing cat. Not the wild cat species fishing cat but a cat catching and eating a fish. Not many cats do that.

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Washington National Cathedral Cat Grotesques — 9 Comments

    • I little bit of cat history! You wonder why they made them look so grotesque? Why not beautiful? You would have thought that the Church would want to make their buildings more attractive and less fearful. Perhaps they are meant to be places of fear – the fear of God’s retribution. That would fit in better with these frightening sculptures.

    • I don’t find these typical of gargoyles though – they are less dark than many I have seen. I think grotesque is an old fashioned meaning for what ‘animated’ means in contemporary times. In other word I think back then people had a much darker view of the world and any clairvoyance of the times reflected people’s dark sides. Those cats are actually not so bad.

  1. They are to scare of evil spirits, is the tradition I grew up with. I really wonder what the evolution of g&g’s are. It obviously grew up through superstition. That could be what I heard about. Never heard about the ‘churches’ angle of things. Very interesting information. I assume you mean the Catholic or Church of England? Either way, I always imagined that they were used to ward off lighting and thunder, which can be very off putting in a taller building. I looked down on a massive dark thunder head from a 24th floor of a building many years ago and I was filled with feelings of awe and terror at the sight. One in a lifetime view I think. I can see who ancient builders would see that and come up with G&G’s. Great pix. Great article!

    • I assume you mean the Catholic or Church of England?

      Yes, that’s right Dan, meaning the Church generally.

      They are to scare of evil spirits, is the tradition I grew up with

      Neat idea and could well be correct.

      and I was filled with feelings of awe and terror at the sight.

      Perhaps we are meant to have that feeling in the presence of God so these G & Gs help us get into the mood!

  2. Found bit of history as I browsed several websites. The legend started in France in the 940’s. For some reason, almost all the first gargoyles where lions. Someone came up with the idea of them being a place to hide drain pipes off buildings and so they are almost always used for that reason as well. There are a few more cat gargoyles that I found, but not many were well done or even on buildings. Just did a Google image search.

  3. Michael on my visit to “Westminster Abbey” in London i was fascinated on seeing the Gargoyle sculptures on the cathedrals exterior walls.Had purchased a “Gargoyle” as a memento from the souvenir shop next to the Abbey as I found it fascinating and mysterious.In India we don’t have “GARGOYLES” in any of the churches, Anglican or Catholic. I am attaching a photo of the memento now sitting in my showcase, memories of London-2010.

    • I find it interesting that there are no grotesques and gargoyles in India. It means it is a European and North American culture. Perhaps in other countries too. Personally, I think India has improved on the European architecture because I don’t think they enhance a church or cathedral.

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