There are gargoyles: and then there are gargoyles.
A gargoyle is just that: a water spout, often lead-lined, a gargouille or throat to carry water away from a roof in a downpour. They are often long, fantastical granite creatures: long because the further out from the building they stretch, the further from the wall they will carry excess water.
But the gargoyles I found on a stroll round St Cross Hospital, Winchester – well, I am not sure if they are even gargoyles at all. And yet, I cannot bring myself to call them grotesque.
And here’s another; not grotesque, but no-nonsense, clothed in the most glorious headdress:
I confess I rather fell in love with these, and their partners, the other faces which stared from stonework. Their faces seemed very different from others I have seen in similar situations. These faces are real, and almost warm, and have stared implacably down from their places for hundreds upon hundred of years without theatre, or ceremony.
Perhaps this is because they have little to prove. St Cross, as I have explained before, is not a religious community. It’s a set of almshouses, the oldest in the country. Founded in 1136, it is a perfectly preserved mediaeval community.
And the faces, they are ordinary. They could be anyone. With one notable exception one feels comfortable beneath their gaze. They are an integral part of the ancient walls.
I wandered around, taking in the faces, meeting them cordially, and then wandered into the old kitchens to look at their state of the art lead lined water pump and sink. And I realised that there was a little food cellar I had not ever explored. With no windows it was lined with warm brick, and the hospital used it to store some of the old masonry which has come down over the years.
It was there I met this gentleman:
No longer looking down from above, but shut away from the light, and the gorgeous flowers of the gardens, and the visitors coming to and fro.
But on the bright side, he is away from the rains, and the frost, and the cruel winds. Perhaps he is on sabbatical, there in the little food cellar.
I very much hope so.