This elaborate yet grotesque stone sculpture at the front of a church is actually a way of managing water. It is a waterspout, a gargoyle waterspout, and in architecture it is designed to convey rainwater away from the masonry of a building to prevent it eroding over time.
Structures throughout history have incorporated these gargoyles within building design, especially medieval churches, and they were mainly high up and well above eye level so you could pass them by quite easily unnoticed. In essence, we may not always see them, but they always see us.
Many of these gargoyles were crafted to represent fantastical creatures. This one appears to be half-lion and half-bird, a hybrid creature which featured in many ancient civilisations. In the images directly above and below you can see the lead-lined roof outlet through which the water is released into the carving, the water would then gush from its gaping mouth during rainfall.
Gargoyles really took off during the Gothic period, and in symbolism it is believed that these fantastical sculptures were added to scare away evil spirits.
Interestingly the word gargoyle derives from the French gargouille, or throat, from which the verb, to gargle, also originates.
St Saviour’s on The Cliff, Shanklin, Isle of White, England. The foundation stone was laid on Ascension Day in 1867. Photographs taken August 2017.