Enigma of Alien Gargoyle Atop Ancient Scottish Church Now Solved
An ‘alien’ gargoyle carved on the exterior of a 12th-century Scottish abbey is causing waves on social media.
Believed to have been founded as a holy site in the 7th century by Saint Mirin (or Saint Mirren) the 12th century Paisley Abbey is a Scottish parish church of the Church of Scotland situated on the east bank of the White Cart Water in the center of the town of Paisley in Renfrewshire, about 12 miles (19 km) west of Glasgow.
A gargoyle carved high up on the abbey’s roof is making waves on social media because it mirrors the xenomorph creature from the 1979 movie Alien, and Glasgow Live reports photographs are going viral on Facebook and Twitter.
The outside of the Paisley Abbey in Scotland, where the alien gargoyle can be seen. (Lairich Rig / CC BY-SA 2.0 )
Stretched For Protection
Architecturally, gargoyles are stonemasons’ tools, carefully carved with spouts, which are designed to take water away from the sides of buildings, therefore preventing rainwater from eroding masonry and its connecting mortar. Medieval architects sometimes created rows of ‘grotesques’ with water troughs cut in the backs of the gargoyle, and the reason these fantastical creatures often look ‘stretched’ is because the longer the gargoyle, the further rainwater was directed from walls.
Spiritually, however, the primary application of the gargoyle was to illustrate evil through the form of a tormented looking creature. Itself believed to frighten off evil spirits and protect those that it guards within the church. But the Paisley Abbey Alien gargoyle has a different story altogether. Now, before you get to thinking maybe Giorgio A. Tsoukalos from History Channel’s Ancient Aliens was right and start to think maybe a 12th century stonemason had travelled forward in time, watched the movie, and hopped back again, the answer is much simpler.
Alien Spotted At Paisley Abbey In 1990s
Reverend Alan Birss told BBC News that during a refurbishment project at the abbey in the early 1990s, 12 medieval gargoyles, which had been on the abbey for hundreds of years had been replaced and he thinks that one of the stonemasons must have been “having a bit of fun.” Only one of the original gargoyles remains outside the abbey today to demonstrate how they would have looked originally, before the alien took over. The building’s interior also features medieval grotesques.
12 Paisley Abbey gargoyles were replaced in 1991. The set includes ‘see no evil’, ‘speak no evil’, ‘hear no evil’ and the alien gargoyle. Colin / CC BY-SA 3.0
Mr. Birss said a stonemason from an Edinburgh firm was contracted to create the new gargoyles when the film was “fairly new” but he thinks the mason wasn’t deliberately copying the alien in the film and it was just a “concept of an alien.” Mr. Birss also said that an internet search showed that someone had pointed out the similarity as far back as 1997.
From Alien Gargoyles To Treasure Filled Drains
Besides the carved alien on the roof of Paisley Abbey drawing attention, in the early 1990s an extremely finely constructed 13th century vaulted drain was rediscovered running from the abbey to the White Cart river. According to a Historic Environment Scotland document titled, Paisley Abbey , the drain measures at least 90 meters long (295 feet), up to 2 meters wide (6.5 feet) and up to 2.2m high (7 feet) and before archaeologists could access it they had to pump out water.
The walls of the ancient drain hold stonemasons’ marks, and it was found to contain many items, some of which are now on display in the abbey, including: a slate marked with musical notation, which is the oldest example of polyphonic music found in Scotland. According to Kenneth Elliot’s 2000 book Musical Slates: The Paisley Abbey Fragments, the drain also contained imported cloth seals, 15th century chamber pots, tweezers and carved bone handles. If you like you can take a virtual tour of the drain on YouTube.
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Paisley Abbey is a Museum of Movies
Paisley Abbey Drain is designated by Historic Environment Scotland as a Scheduled Ancient Monument and as wonderful as it might be, perhaps the abbey’s most historically significant feature is the tomb in the choir incorporating a female effigy widely believed to be Marjorie Bruce , the mother of Robert II. Opposite Marjorie Bruce lie the tombs of Robert III of Scotland and Simon fitz Alan and furthermore, Paisley Abbey is also the burial place of all six High Stewards of Scotland and the wives of Robert II and King Robert III.
Marjorie Bruce statue on her tomb in Paisley Abbey, where the alien gargoyle can be seen. (Stephencdickson / CC BY-SA 4.0 )
Those visitors to Scotland on the trail of another 90s blockbuster, Braveheart , the Glasgow Live article reminds us of Paisley Abbey’s links with the legendary William Wallace , and that you can find out more by joining guided tours at the abbey on Tuesdays and Thursdays at 2pm.
Top image: The Paisley Abbey alien gargoyle (image had been cropped). Source: Colin / CC BY-SA 2.0
By Ashley Cowie