Our first trip to Galicia took us to one of the most beautiful places in the world, Santiago de Compostela. It rained that day (what would Galicia be without rain!), but we loved it as much as ever because thanks to the rain, we could see the gargoyles spouting water.

In this first post, we saw some of the amazing gargoyles at one of the most magnificent Baroque monasteries in Galicia, the Monastery of San Martin Pinario. Recall that although it was originally a Benedictine monastery in the 10th century, reconstruction began in the late 16th century and was completed in the 18th century. It ceased to be a monastery in the late 19th century, and the building now houses the major seminary of the Archdiocese de Santiago, the Theological Institute of Compostela, the Diocesan Archives and the University School of Social Work and Theology, as well as providing guest accommodation and serving as a venue for cultural events.


gárgolas del mundo

San Martin Pinario Monastery (Santiago de Compostela, Spain).


Today, I’m going to talk about and show the other gargoyles at this superb monastery. Once more, we’ll discover fantastic beings with exuberant ornamentation. Yet again, there is an impressive range of types.

Among the real animals, there are two lions. One has an elongated muzzle, outlined eyes with pupils, a mane with straight hair, but curly on the head, and it is raising its front paws to its mouth. The other also has a straight mane and appears to be touching its throat.

There is also a rampant bird; a fish with fins and scales; three dogs rampant, one of them in a posture of movement, displaying its genitals and holding what appears to be a bone in its mouth; a seated pig; two asses, one rampant and the other with long ears; a nanny or billy goat with an abundant coat, beard and horns, and another which is seated and has a beard.


león en gárgolas

Lion with its paws in its mouth.


gárgola arte historia

Lion with its paws at its throat.


gárgolas dolores herrero

Rampant bird.


dolores herrero blog

Fish with fins and scales.


perro en gárgolas

Rampant dog.


gárgola canalón arquitectura

Rampant dog.


expresividad en gárgolas

Dog with a bone in its mouth.


animales insólitos gárgolas

Seated pig.


animales en gárgolas

Rampant ass.


arte historia investigación

Ass with long ears.


gárgola macho cabrío

Nanny or billy goat with abundant coat.


noticias de gárgolas

Seated nanny or billy goat.


The animal monsters, or hybrids, are also exceptional. There are two birds with ears, one of them with abundant plumage and a caruncle or fleshy part hanging beneath its neck; two fish with scales, one with membranous ears or fins and the other with fins and front legs; and a sea monster with scales and webbed feet.


águila en gárgolas

Bird with ears.


híbridos animales gárgolas

Bird with ears and caruncle.


monstruo animal gárgolas

Fish with membranous ears or fins.


gárgola cuerpo escamoso

Fish with fins and front legs.


gárgola gótico neogótico

Monster with scales and webbed feet.


Of particular note are the astounding plant monsters, fantastical figures with strange features such as lush foliage on their heads and bodies, plumage, large acanthus-type leaves and single or double spirals on their wings, body and nose. Some look like a green man, while others have animal heads and legs with plant elements on their bodies.


gárgola monstruo vegetal

Plant monster.


monstruo vegetal Salamanca

Plant monster with acanthus-type leaf.


monstruo green man

Plant monster.


green man catedrales

Plant monster that looks like a green man.


monstruo vegetal Salamanca

Plant monster.


gárgolas-blog dolores herrero

Monster with animal head and legs and plant elements on its body.


manos en boca

Monster with animal head and legs and plant elements on its body.


Now I’m going to turn to the incredible and fascinating devil figures that leap out from the monastery walls. These are all extraordinary gargoyles, due both to the sculpting and the iconography. There are winged, anthropomorphic devils with a fantastical, grotesque appearance evidencing enormous creativity and imagination. Notable among their features are flaps of skin and protuberances on their heads and bodies, women’s breasts, membranous wings, hooves, hair, eyes with eyelids and pupils, claws, prominent eyebrows, elongated muzzles, tusks, wings in a spiral, scales, caruncles, animal heads, prominent windpipes, horns on the head or nose, front crests, coiled snakes’ tails, double horns, dragonish bodies, genital displays, tails, deformed bodies and leaf-type wings.

Their expressions and postures are also unusually striking. There are quite a few figures that are rampant, seated or sticking out their tongues, that depict movement, or that have their hands in their mouths, at their throats or on their faces.


demonio en gárgolas

Seated devil.


demonio alas murciélago

Devil with membranous wings.


gárgolas arte terrorífico

Devil with hands around its neck.


gárgola canalón grotesco



alas en gárgolas

Devil with wings in a spiral.


gárgola catedral quimera

Rampant devil.


monstruo alas espiral

Devil with caruncle.


gárgolas arte sublime

Devil with animal head and prominent windpipe.


demonio cuernos enroscados

Devil with coiled horns.


gárgolas monstruo marino

Devil with a serpent’s tail.


gárgola demonio fantástico

Devil with spirals.


monstruo híbrido gárgola

Devil with a dragonish body.


demonio grotesco fealdad

Grotesque devil.


fealdad en arte

Devil with leaf-type wings.


gárgolas con genitales

Devil displaying its genitals.


arte del horror

Devil with its hands on its face.


demonios antropomorfos gárgolas

Devil with its hands on its face.


Lastly, I would like to show you two exceptional gargoyles. One of them is a terrifying-looking devil with animal legs, which is holding a mask-like human face in its two hands; a truly disturbing and mysterious figure. The other is an anthropomorphic devil with a human head, curly hair, hooves, wings, protuberances on its body and a tusked animal’s muzzle sticking out of its mouth.

In relation to this latter gargoyle, I have to say that discovering the gargoyles at San Martin Pinario was a truly astonishing experience. However, I also found something fascinating that same day, which was the amazing formal and thematic similarity with the gargoyles at Batalha Monastery in Portugal. Although this magnificent Portuguese Gothic building is earlier —construction began between 1385 and 1388— its influence is palpable. Research indicates that the monks commissioned Mateus Lopes, a Portuguese architect who had already worked on other Benedictine buildings in Galicia, to design the San Martín Pinario monastery. These formal and thematic similarities between gargoyles in Portugal and Spain (in this case between the monasteries of Batalha and San Martín Pinario), countries united not only by their geographical proximity but also by their historical influences, were undoubtedly due to exchanges between master masons and itinerant workshops, transferring knowledge and ideas between the various professionals and trades in both countries. This wonderful connection provided mutual apprenticeship and artistic enrichment.


gárgola máscara demonio

Devil holding a mask-like face.


gárgolas España Portugal

Anthropomorphic devil expelling an animal’s muzzle from its mouth.


The sculpting of the gargoyles is extraordinarily detailed. As we’ve seen, these are unique and original gargoyles, replete with ornamental elements, some of which approach horror vacui, a feature that can also be seen in gargoyles at Batalha.

Exuberant, terrifying, grotesque and comic, some exhibit movement that endows them with dynamism and expressiveness, stunning, magical, fantastical, with extravagant, unreal forms, picturesque… We would need infinite adjectives to describe them. In addition, the gargoyles seem “alive”, the fleshy appearance and volume of some of their bodies endows them with enormous plasticity. But above all, we find ourselves once again before examples of the lavish imagination and creative freedom of the great sculptors who produced them.

The first post dealt more with magical beings, such as the Galician lumias, sirens and harpies, which many of us might recall from the stories we read as children. Today, I have once again relived the fairy tales, magic, fantasy, illusion and wonderment of my childhood. Galicia, a land whose folklore is populated by mythical beings (meigas, tardos, trasnos, lumias, mouras), legends, marvels and enchantments, and which is influenced by the history and art of other nearby places such as neighbouring Portugal.

But, above all, Galicia is a land of water, water that gushes forth from its fascinating gargoyles.




Bibliography consulted

FREIRE NAVAL, A., B., “Aportación documental al estudio de la actividad artística del Monasterio de San Martín Pinario y sus prioratos entre 1501 y 1854”, ADAXE-Revista de Estudios e Experiencias Educativas, 2000, 16, pp. 225-246.

VIGO TRASANCOS, A., “La iglesia monástica de San Martín Pinario en Santiago de Compostela. Proyecto, fábrica y artífices”, Separata de “COMPOSTELLANUM”, Vol. XXXVIII, Números 3-4, 1993, pp. 336-361.


Art, History and Research

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