Terracotta Gargoyles – History, Challenges, and Restoration

Gargoyles are undoubtedly one of the most notable features of Gothic architecture. These winged beasts and frightening monsters are found on the outside of many structures, particularly Gothic cathedrals. But why would religious buildings display evil-looking creatures? Why do gargoyles crafted from terracotta seem to be so much more susceptible to damage than other terracotta elements? What terracotta restoration process is used to bring back the frightening beauty of gargoyles crafted from architectural terracotta? This article will answer these three important questions.

A Brief History of Terracotta Gargoyles

Gargoyles crafted from terracotta and other materials began appearing on the sides of Gothic cathedrals during the Middle Ages. Exactly what these monsters represented is still a matter of debate. Some believe terracotta gargoyles were biblical creatures, while others think they were symbols of evil. There is also contention about whether terracotta gargoyles were recreations of creatures that once roamed the earth or depictions of mythological dragons. Although scholars disagree about the actual inspiration behind these elements, most agree on the purpose of gargoyles. They were placed on cathedral exteriors to serve as guards and protect against evil forces.

Gargoyles Crafted from Architectural Terracotta: Why They are so Vulnerable

On historic structures, gargoyles crafted from architectural terracotta are often the first elements to deteriorate. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, because gargoyles protrude from the facades of buildings, they are simply more exposed to the elements. The raw steel angles and bronze rods used to anchor gargoyles crafted from architectural terracotta to buildings are another reason why they are so prone to corrosion and wear. When water penetrates these terracotta elements, rusting and swelling can quickly cause damage to the terracotta.

Terracotta Restoration: The Process for Gargoyles

One of the top goals of terracotta restoration is to produce a finished product that is as similar to the original architectural terracotta element as possible. When terracotta gargoyles are being restored, replacements can often be cast using the existing gargoyle. In cases where the gargoyle has been completely destroyed, a replacement may have to be sculpted from drawings or photos. Effective terracotta restoration for these particular elements also involves anchoring replacement gargoyles with frames crafted from stainless or galvanized steel. Replacement terracotta gargoyles are then bolted or epoxied to the cathedral or other building. This terracotta restoration process ensures that gargoyles will be able to resist the elements and serve as sentries and conversation pieces for many years.