Gargoyles and Grotesques: Why are there Monsters on Medieval Churches?

Gargoyles and grotesques are an immediate and appealing feature of many historic churches and cathedrals. Typically carved into all manner of monsters, wild figures and faces, these sizeable pieces of architectural sculpture have often been dismissed as meaningless or whimsical folk art incongruous with their religious setting. In this talk Alex Woodcock will explore the content and contexts of these carvings, exploring the role of the monster in architectural sculpture and the complexities of the grotesque, and through doing so what these images might reveal to us about medieval buildings and beliefs.

Dr Alex Woodcock is a writer, stonemason and artist immersed in the worlds of medieval architecture and sculpture. Following a PhD on medieval sculpture he trained as a stonemason and worked at Exeter Cathedral for six years. His books include Gargoyles and Grotesques (Bloomsbury, 2011), Of Sirens and Centaurs (Impress, 2013) and King of Dust (Little Toller, 2019). He teaches on the Cathedrals’ Workshop Fellowship degree and is a Fellow of the Society of Antiquaries. For more information see: or Twitter: @beakheads

Your curator and host for this event will be the writer Edward Parnell, author of Ghostland: In Search of a Haunted Country. Edward Parnell lives in Norfolk and has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of East Anglia. He is the recipient of an Escalator Award from the National Centre for Writing and a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship. Ghostland (William Collins, 2019), a work of narrative non-fiction, is a moving exploration of what has haunted our writers and artists – as well as the author’s own haunted past; it was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley 2020 prize, an award given to a literary autobiography of excellence. Edward’s first novel The Listeners (2014), won the Rethink New Novels Prize. For further info see:

[Image: a carving of a mouth-puller on the church tower at Iffley, Oxfordshire. Photo by Alex Woodcock.]