Wednesday 30 June 2021

Jaguar gargoyles at the Basilica del Voto Nacional

I have spotted this pair of jaguar gargoyles on the largest neo-Gothic church in South America, the Basílica del Voto Nacional. The church is littered with gargoyles. It is a Noah's Ark of animals circumventing the basilica. There are goats, turtles, what appear to be sharks or ominous-looking sea creatures in addition to this pair of jaguars.

Jaguar gargoyles at the Basilica del Voto Nacional
 Jaguar gargoyles at the Basilica del Voto Nacional. Photo: in public domain.

The jaguar is a revered animal in South America. For thousands of years the people of South America have worshipped and been fearful of it. And the animal, remarkably, is still in South America including Ecuador. The basilica that I referred to is in the historic centre of Quinto, Ecuador. It is no surprise, therefore, that there are a pair of jaguars decorating the exterior of this impressive church.


The jaguar is in these countries as at July 2021: Argentina; Belize; Bolivia, Plurinational States of; Brazil; Colombia; Costa Rica; Ecuador; French Guiana; Guatemala; Guyana; Honduras; Mexico; Nicaragua; Panama; Paraguay; Peru; Suriname; United States; Venezuela, Bolivarian Republic of.

Gargoyles are also called grotesques. As you can see in the photograph, they are carved out of stone very often and attached to the exterior wall of a cathedral or basilica. Architecturally they have a spout at the end farthest from the building from which rainwater is ejected having run off the roof via a channel into the gargoyle. I'm told that architects use multiple gargoyles to divide the flow of rainwater off the roof to minimise any potential damage to the building during downpours and storms. It seems that this functional aspect of a church's exterior is also combined with, in this instance, an interest in the animal and its importance to the culture of society in which the church is located.

The basilica remains unfinished as local legend says that when the Basílica is completed, the end of the world will come. One of those myths which they have kept going. Similar myths surround the jaguar in the minds of many because they are, powerful, mysterious and often black being melanistic.

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