After admiring the gargoyles on the “Catedral Nueva” in Vitoria, in today’s post we’ll be continuing to enjoy gargoyles in the Basque Country. We’re off to the beautiful city of Irún, where I’ve discovered some of the strangest and loveliest figures I’ve seen on my travels so far.

They are none other than the gargoyles on the Parish Church of Nuestra Señora del Juncal in Irún (Guipúzcoa). This magnificent church was built between the 16th and 17th centuries and combines three architectural styles: Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque.

This beautiful building was declared a National Historical and Artistic Monument in June 1973.

 

 

gárgola gótico arte

Parish Church of Nuestra Señora del Juncal in Irún (Spain).

 

 

The gargoyles are both very curious and surprising. In terms of their iconography, you can see real animals like the lion and the lamb, plus a mythical animal, the gryphon.

Although we already discussed this in the post about the gargoyles on the La Loge de Mer in Perpignan, I’ll remind you that research on the gryphon tells us that it’s a mythical creature, half eagle and half lion. Its depiction dates back to Antiquity (Babylon, Persia, Ancient India). Pliny (1st century) says they were originally from the land of the Scythians (northern Russia) and Aeschylus (6th-5th century B.C.) says they were from Ethiopia. Their two halves grant them all the attributes of the lion (king of the land) and the eagle (queen of the air). History tells us that in in Greece and Rome they were regarded as tomb guardians; for the Greeks they were also an animal of light, and this is why they’re sometimes shown sitting at the feet of statues of Apollo. In Christian symbolism, the fact that the gryphon embodied both natures (the eagle and the lion) makes it one of the best emblems of the dual nature of Christ: the eagle’s bust represents the divinity of the Saviour and the lion’s body represents his humanity. The gryphon is also a symbol of wisdom and guardian of treasures, especially of emeralds. In terms of its negative powers, the gryphon was often used to represent Satan because of its raptor’s beak and its predator’s claws; some medieval authors also link it with the devil for its cruelty and destructive power. Saint Isidore (6th-7th century) says: “They are terribly dangerous for horses. They also tear apart any men they happen to see”.

The lamb, as an innocent, docile, phlegmatic and patient animal, represents humility, innocence and patience. Because it was docile even on the altar, it was assumed that it accepted being sacrificed, which is why the Jews used it for their offerings. So, the lamb became the symbol of Christ, who showed the lamb’s docile nature in offering himself as sacrifice to redeem humanity.

Although their types are the usual ones, what’s really distinctive about these gargoyles is their sculptural style and the way they’re carved. Interestingly, some of them are similar to the gargoyles on Astorga Cathedral. The figures have some significant features, for example, long, pointed lips, or heads turned sideways, giving the sensation of movement. Plus, some wear decorative items like necklaces or ribbons around their necks, while others wear a breastplate, a  kind of strap or girdle that also appears on the gargoyles on Burgos Cathedral. These adornments, along with almond-shaped, outlined eyes, are reminiscent of images from art in Antiquity (Mesopotamia, Persia). This, added to the presence of the gryphon as a creature that probably originated in these cultures, makes them a set of evocative and fascinating gargoyles. They’re further proof of the artistic beauty of gargoyles in the Basque Country.

 

 

leones en gárgolas

Lion.

 

gárgola arte gótico

Lamb.

 

grifo gárgola mitología

Gryphon.

 

arte historia investigación

Lion.

 

animal fantástico grifo

Gryphon.

 

animales en gárgolas

Lamb.

 

arte gárgola historia

Gryphon.

 

grifos en gárgolas

Gryphon.

 

grifos en arte

Gryphon.

 

grifo arte historia

Gryphon.

 

 

 

Bibliography consulted

CHARBONNEAU-LASSAY, L., El bestiario de Cristo. El simbolismo animal en la Antigüedad y la Edad Media, vol. I, Palma de Mallorca, José J. de Olañeta Editor, 1997.

MARIÑO FERRO, X. R., El simbolismo animal. Creencias y significados en la cultura occidental, Madrid, Ediciones Encuentro, 1996.

 

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