The Digital Journalism Blog

Gargoyles, grotesques and Gothic guardians, oh my!

by Vickie Berkow

You can’t visit Europe without seeing one. They can be spotted up high, tucked away behind pillars and stained glass windows, peering down on the scene below. Gargoyles have been an integral part of Gothic architecture in European cathedrals since the medieval period, but they have also been found worldwide, dating back to ancient Egypt. So how did these creatures, particularly grotesques, make their way to Bradley University’s campus? Find out why the guardians are here, what impact they have made on Bradley’s culture and learn more about other gargoyles across the globe.

The guardians of Bradley University

Even though Bradley University has seen numerous transformations throughout the years, some things will always be set in stone.

Two gargoyles sit perched on top of Bradley Hall, as part of the original 1897 construction of the building. With the 2011 opening of the Hayden-Clark Alumni Center, four new gargoyles cemented their place on campus as fellow Bradley guardians. 

Although the name is French, gargoyles can be found throughout the world, dating back to ancient Egypt.  The original purpose of the creatures was to collect and dump rainwater from buildings’ roofs to prevent damage. Rumors spread of their protection against evil spirits once gargoyles topped medieval Catholic churches. Today, most gargoyles are used for aesthetics purposes more than gutter systems.

So how did these massive granite carvings, found mostly in European cathedrals, make their way to the middle of Illinois in the late 19th century?

When founder Lydia Moss Bradley planned the construction of her university, one friend was a major influence. University of Chicago President William Rainey Harper assisted Mrs. Bradley with the details of building an institution, from academics to enrollment, to the erection of campus’ first two buildings.

Harper convinced Mrs. Bradley to speak with Henry Ives Cobbs, who designed Harper’s University of Chicago buildings.  Mrs. Bradley agreed to hire him after seeing his drafts. The drafts, which can be found in Special Collections in the Cullom-Davis Library, include the original four gargoyles on each corner of Bradley Hall’s main tower.

The university’s two original buildings were modeled very similarly to the University of Chicago’s collegiate gothic buildings. In fact, the University of Chicago also has gargoyles, with several on a structure called Cobbs’ Gate, completed the same year he finished Mrs. Bradley’s two buildings.

As part of the gothic design, four gargoyles were in the plan for Bradley Hall, according to minutes from the 1896 Bradley Board of Trustees. Today, there are only two remaining on the front corners of the building, as the back two were damaged and removed after the Bradley Hall fire of 1963.

After the fire destroyed two of the gargoyles, campus lacked guardians facing the west for more than 45 years. But with the 2011 construction of the Hayden-Clark Alumni Center, Bradley had the chance to bring them back.

“Knowing the nature of the original buildings on campus, we wanted to image that design on the Hayden-Clark Alumni Center the best we could,” said Vice President of Business Affairs Gary Anna, who was major proponent in adopting more gargoyles on campus.

Anna said two of the Alumni Center gargoyles are similar in design to the original Bradley Hall gargoyles, while the other two are unique and more modern.

“We did our search and looked at more than 100 different gargoyle designs,” Anna said. “Some were hideous, and I don’t mean that in a bad way, and some were fierce. But we decided to do two gargoyles to look like the ones lost in the fire. And for the other two, we wanted them to not be so sinister.”

The two gargoyles that replicate the originals face east towards Bradley Hall, while the other two, one of which is nicknamed “the Thinker,” face west. The gargoyles were installed by a Peoria construction company, J. J. Braker, which is co-owned by Bradley alumnus Tim Braker.

Anna said despite the decrease of demand of gargoyles in architecture today, he is happy the new Alumni Center included the creatures in its blueprints.

“There are a lot of buildings today that don’t have gargoyles, but we went for it,” Anna said. “[The Alumni Center] is a sister to Bradley Hall, and we wanted to honor it.”

Will gargoyles solve BU’s mascot identity crisis?

The university has used the nickname of “Braves” since 1937, but recently stopped using Native American imagery. For more than three decades, Bradley has struggled to find one permanent mascot to accompany the “Braves” name.  A fall 2012 survey narrowed the mascot decision down to three choices, with gargoyles being one of them.  Students have differing views on whether or not gargoyles should leave Bradley Hall for the basketball court.

The grotesque test

Many people don’t realize that, technically, Bradley does not have any gargoyles – it has grotesques. Here’s an inside look of the differences between gargoyles and grotesques, and how Bradley used the creatures for the past century.

A world of gargoyles

While most gargoyles are found in Catholic European cathedrals, the guardians have been around much longer than that. The first signs of gargoyles were discovered in ancient Egypt and ancient Greece, and some are located in North America, including Bradley University.  Today, the popularity of incorporating gargoyles in architecture is much lower, but every once in a while they pop up.  Take a look at some of the most famous gargoyles across the globe here.


2 Responses to 'Gargoyles, grotesques and Gothic guardians, oh my!'

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