The Alien Gargoyle of Paisley Abbey
It looks very much like the xenomorph creature from Ridley Scott’s ‘Alien’ films from the 1980’s but it’s actually a gargoyle on a 13 century Abbey near Glasgow in Scotland. A picture of the stone sculpture was posted on the ‘Paisley Heritage and Mysteries’ Twitter page in 2013 and was soon being featured in mainstream media.
A twitter debate quickly erupted regarding the origin of this unexplained architecture. Was the gargoyle the inspiration of the monster that attacks the crew of the spaceship Nostromo? How could it be that a creature of science fiction was embedded in the stones of a building that was older than the Aztec civilization? Could this be the perfect proof that extra-terrestrials had visited Planet Earth during its ancient past?
Gargoyles, or grotesques as they are sometimes known, were a common architectural feature of grand buildings and were used to hide spouts designed pour rainwater away from the walls. Why these carvings should represent caricatures of distressed humans and fantastical beasts – some say monsters – is not entirely clear. The everyday reason often trotted out is that they were there to scare away evil spirits which, when you think about, makes absolutely no sense at all given that gargoyles were actually representations of evil spirits. Others believe that it was a way for stonemasons to incorporate ancient figures more associated with paganism than Christianity.
Paisley abbey was duly contacted and the mystery of the ancient alien investigated. It turned out that although the stones sculptures looked hundreds of years old they had actually been installed in 1991 to replace a number of gargoyles that were beyond repair. This and other restoration work was carried out by Stirling Stone Ltd of Stirlingshire, Scotland. In total 11 new gargoyles were installed but it wasn’t until 1997 that a visitor to Paisley Abbey pointed out the remarkable similarity between the 4th sculpture on the southwest side of Paisley Abbey with the infamous xenomorph ‘chest busting’ alien.
When interviewed in 2013, Reverend Alan Birss said that he believes that one of the stonemasons must have been having a bit of fun. In the past, stonemasons had even included the likeness of their mothers-in-law and public figures they thought deserved a touch of ridicule.
The alien gargoyle isn’t the only time that modern monsters have been added to ancient buildings. the Washington National Cathedral in America has a grotesque in the shape of Darth Vader’s mask and the 15th century Chapelle de Bethléem (Bethlehem Chapel) in Nantes, France, has a gargoyle in the shape of Gizmo the Mogwai from the movie ‘Gremlins’ released by warner Brothers in 1984.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that stonemasons have taken inspiration from modern horror movies. According to tradition a gargoyle should be relevant to what currently frightens people and no two gargoyles should ever be the same.