The Gargoyles of Dubrovnik— And a Saint’s Finger… Armchair Travel

Today, I am continuing to dig back into my Word Press archives by looking at gargoyles. I have a weakness for them. While they are said to scare away evil spirits, they attract me. What can I say? As for the various body parts of saints, you will find them scattered in Catholic churches throughout Europe. One can only wonder… Anyway, Gargoyles and a sacred finger are the subject of today’s armchair travel as I wrap up my posts on Dubrovnik.

I found this marvelous gargoyle about a foot off the Stradun connected the the Franciscan Monastery.
I found this marvelous gargoyle about a foot off the Stradun connected to the Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik, Croatia. Check out the great mustache!

Weird amuses me— and few things are more weird than a gargoyle. During the middle ages, no decent cathedral would be caught without them. In addition to piping water away from the building, they served as reminders to the faithful that evil lurked in the world, an evil that could only be overcome by attending church and donating money. Their cousins, grotesques, were also found on churches. Equally ugly and portentous, they didn’t carry water.

Whenever I get near a gargoyle or grotesque, I can’t help myself; I have to take its photo. Fortunately, Peggy feels the same way.

Peggy caught this Dubrovnik gargoyle. Possibly it represents one of the winds.
Peggy caught this Dubrovnik gargoyle. Possibly it represents one of the winds.
I took this closeup of the Dubrovnik gargoyle Peggy photographed above. Note the water dribbling down its chin.
I took this closeup of the Dubrovnik gargoyle Peggy photographed above. Note the water dribbling down its chin. I don’t know about you, but I always find it interesting to try different perspectives when I am photographing something.
We found examples of grotesques in the cloister of the Franciscan Monastery of Dubrovnik on top of columns. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
We found examples of grotesques in the cloister of the Franciscan Monastery of Dubrovnik on top of columns. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson)
Dragons were a popular subject for both gargoyles and grotesques. What could be more scary. We found this specimen with his fine set of choppers in the Franciscan Monastery.
Dragons were a popular subject for both gargoyles and grotesques. What could be more scary. We found this specimen with his fine set of choppers in the Franciscan Monastery.

I have also found that fountains in Europe often host strange-looking beings. While the wealthy in pre-modern times might have water piped into their homes, the common folks obtained their water from community fountains. Dubrovnik built an aqueduct system in the mid 1400s to bring water to the city and then located two public fountains on the Stradun: big Onofrio’s Fountain located near the Pile Gate and little Onofrio’s Fountain found next to the clock tower in Lutz Square.

The top of Little Onofrio's Fountain with its ferocious looking fish. The fountain is located near the clock tower in Dubrovnik, Croatia.
The top of little Onofrio’s Fountain with its ferocious looking fish. The fountain is located near the clock tower in Dubrovnik, Croatia. If I caught something like this, I’d be cutting my line!
Another view of Little Onofrio's Fountain.
Another view of little Onofrio’s Fountain. The oranges, BTW, were part of Dubrovnik’s Christmas decorations.
Big Onofrio's Fountain located near the Pile Gate had 16 sides and each side featured a different mask with a spout coming out of its mouth. This was a cow mask.
Big Onofrio’s Fountain located near the Pile Gate had 16 sides and each side featured a different mask with a spout coming out of its mouth. This was a cow mask. Or maybe it was a bull.

Something I find even stranger than gargoyles, grotesques, or fountain inhabitants are relics— bits and pieces of saints or other holy items kept around in reliquaries as items of worship.  Pieces of the Cross are a common example. I once read that selling pieces of the cross was a thriving business during the Middle Ages. Scam comes to mind. The Dubrovnik Cathedral has a particularly impressive set of relics including a requisite piece of the Cross, Baby Jesus’ swaddling clothes, and various body parts of St. Blaise.

All of these items are reputedly capable of performing miracles and it is something of a miracle they exist. How they were obtained is usually rooted in the murky past. Pieces of the swaddling clothes were provided to women having difficult births. No matter how many pieces were cut out of the cloth, so it is said, the cloth returned to its original form.

I came across St. Luke’s finger in the small museum found in the Franciscan Monastery in Dubrovnik. The finger is encased in a gold reliquary. I know people take these items seriously and believe they have miraculous powers, but I find them on the far side of strange. I would almost bet that it cost the monastery an arm and a leg to get the finger.

NEXT POST: You want gargoyles? Wait until you see the white oak trees on our property and in the national forest behind us. These trees would fit right into “Lord of the Rings” or most other fantasies— or horror movies. My theory is that they will scare the heck out of the coronavirus if it comes around. Remember how the gargoyles were supposed to scare the evil spirits away from medieval cathedrals in Europe? I bet that they were recruited to frighten the plague as well! I know better, but it is fun to contemplate. And I find the trees interesting and amusing as opposed to scary. (At least during the day.)

20 thoughts on “The Gargoyles of Dubrovnik— And a Saint’s Finger… Armchair Travel

  1. Curt, “it cost the monastery an arm and a leg to get the finger” might produce a groan capable of frightening any evil spirit.
    I too like gargoyles but don’t have many images of them. My favorite modern examples are at the National Cathedral in Washington: a bishop with his hands to his face in shock at a nearby workman wolf-whistling at a girl.

  2. Wonderful memories you must have of all those places. Croatia was one of the most favourite places to visit and no doubt would have received those huge cruisers invading their harbours.
    They are fascinating gargoyles. perhaps they foresaw what was coming!

  3. I do love gargoyles and grotesques, but a word of caution about those relics. While we may roll our eyes at things like pieces of the ‘true cross’ or a saint’s finger, is the impulse any different than the trading in relics such as Roy Orbison’s sunglasses or a favorite ball player’s glove? Granted, these more modern things don’t necessarily carry the same power ascribed to a saint’s finger — or do they? Sometimes, it seems that they do: at least, for the person who posseses those sunglasses!

    • Yep each to his own relic, Linda. 🙂 Some people claim I am almost old enough to qualify. And certainly, George, my Liberian Bush Devil that was carved by a leper in Ganta comes closed to qualifying as a relic for me. But I haven’t gotten around to worshipping him yet. And I will confess to knocking on wood occasionally, like in “I have avoided the coronavirus so far.” Knock, knock.
      A bit about the pieces of the ‘True Cross’ I didn’t include was that the sale of the cross and nails from it was supposedly a huge money maker for the Catholic Church and was one of Martin Luther’s reasons for the Reformation.

  4. “Ferocious fish” is not a phrase one hears every day, and it is perfectly accurate. Love the massive chompers on that dragon too. So…grotesques. I don’t know if I’ve had it explained to me before, the difference between them and gargoyles, so thanks. I love your appreciation of weirdness because it results in wonderful photos on your blog. These are really great images, and I am most delighted by the one at the very top with the impressive mustache.

    • Thanks, Crystal. Weird is, well, weird. 🙂 No other way to explain it. The imagination of the Middle Ages was filled with it. I wonder if they laughed over their creations? More weird coming on Monday. Some of our more twisted oak trees! –Curt

  5. I’ve never been into gargoyles. Might have to do with hearing too many stories about the inquisition when I was in school, or maybe they showed up in my dreams more frequently that I enjoyed… And the finger thing is way too triggering for this recovering Catholic. 🙂 Catch you next time!

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