LOOK UP anywhere at Hedon’s St. Augustine’s Church and you can guarantee that your stare will be returned by non-human stone figures. Gargoyles, grotesques and stone faces cover the walls and architectural features of the church. There are dozens of them. They have been watching over our ancient town for hundreds of years.
Difference between gargoyles and grotesques.
Gargoyles are functional pieces that draw rainwater away from the walls. Rather than running down the walls and eroding them, rainwater is channelled towards the gargoyles and spouted safely away out of its mouth or nose. Gargoyles project out of the walls to do their job. Grotesques may be very similar but are decorative and non-functional. Gargoyles ‘gargle water’ is a good way to remember the difference.
Why were they carved?
The figures on the church wall have all been very elaborately carved and must have looked most impressive when new. Were they painted? They would have been very ornamental, so colourful too? Some of the stone faces have eroded over time creating haunted expressions that look very eerie. But who are they? Why were they carved? What do they represent?
Many of the carvings take the form of animals and mythical beasts. Perhaps some were carved to ‘protect’ the church against evil spirits? Or maybe they just reflected the folklore and superstitions of the time? Another idea is that they mark and parody people of note at the time like cartoonists do in modern times? It is believed that the church could be a thousand years old and built over a 300-year period. This suggests that the purpose of the stone carvings may have changed over time. A figure celebrated in stone by one regime, may have been lampooned as a comical beast by another?
Whatever their reasons for existence, the gargoyles, grotesques and stone carvings remain an impressive and mysterious part of Hedon’s culture and heritage.
The church had a 5-month facelift in 2010. One of the grotesques (pictured above) was completely replaced. This makes this mythical looking beast the youngest of the church’s gargoyles/grotesques.
If you have photographs of the church carvings that you wish to share, we would love to see them! Email them to firstname.lastname@example.org.