A Gargoyle's Tale

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Gargoyles and Grotesques of York

Over the centuries, many eyes have admired York's beautiful streets, where tourists and residents alike have marveled at the intricate stonework and historical monuments. As you capture the magic of this city through your lens, remember that someone is watching you from above.

Take a moment to look up and you'll see stone eyes peering down at you. These aren't victims from a fantasy film cast into stone, but rather the famous Gargoyles and Grotesques of York. These haunting figures are scattered throughout the city, adorning walls, churches, alleyways, and prominently displayed on the iconic York Minster.

Gargoyles and Grotesques of York Minster

Grotesques are carvings usually depicting demons, dragons, or other mythical creatures, traditionally believed to ward off evil spirits. Gargoyles, while similar, are distinguished by their practical use as water spouts, combining spiritual protection with practicality.

The best place to start your exploration of York's gargoyles is at the Minster itself. The exterior is festooned with a variety of gargoyles ranging from angels to demons, each adding to the Minster's ornate design. Inside, you'll find more playful carvings, like the cheeky 'mooning monk' hidden in the rafters, peeking down at the congregation below.

Outside the Minster, behind the iconic statue of Constantine, you can find the Stonemasons' Yard. Here, craftsmen are busy carving new gargoyles to replace those eroded by rain. This spot becomes a hub of activity in August when stonemasons from around the world gather for a carving competition on the grounds of the Minster.

As you wander the streets of York, don't miss the little red devil on Stonegate. This grotesque, with its indiscernible sneer—or is it a smile?—is a personal favourite. Pay attention to the buildings on Coney Street as you shop; their facades hide many surprises, including caricatures of disfavoured clergymen from days gone by.