The Art of Looking Up

These perfect end-of-summer weekends require outdoor activities, so this weekend we made a return trip to the National Cathedral (its doors are wide open on Sundays) and signed up for a gargoyle tour.  The tour started on the seventh floor, itself replete with views of the city from all angles and nearby framed and labeled images so you can identify common sights.  From the small auditorium, we learned the difference between a gargoyle and grotesque, identified the architectural details we would need to know outside, and viewed several of the 112 gargoyles from their most advantageous angles.

View from the 7th Story

The gargoyles appear on three of the four sides of the Cathedral, the newer sides.  They date from the fundraising stage, where patrons of a certain amount could commission a gargoyle, and several commissioned pairs – such as the good and evil grandsons.  Others depict typically businessmen, from the lawyer to the dentist.  The politician is present, as is the elephant and donkey.  Others immortalize the real-live stone carvers in caricatures, and one gable remains a blank slate, or stone in this case, still in block form as a memorial to the one person who died during construction of the structure.  The elaborate carvings range from the traditional dragons and mythical creatures to the common lizard, snake, and frog.  The scariest shows a skeletal creature being devoured by a serpent, its coils visible from the underside.   The cutest takes the shape of a dog, modeled after its real-life counterpart and curled tightly on the edge as if scared of heights.  The most unique, and possible most elusive to find, is Darth Vader.

We signed up for the tour upon reading this unique detail, but even after adjusting my binoculars, I still couldn’t be sure that I had focused in on this unique character.  Fortunately, the lower gargoyles are easy to spot from the grounds, even with the chain-link fence still in place from last year’s earthquake.  The damage from this event remains visible – from a twisted turret to a headless gargoyle.  That was part of the tour too.

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