The Dark Side
December 20, 2001 8:32 AM   Subscribe

The Dark Side of the Washington National Cathedral. Is this real? If so, why would they put an icon of evil on the outside of this place, "intended for national purposes, such as public prayer, thanksgiving, funeral orations, etc.,and assigned to the special use of no particular Sect of denomination, but equally open to all."
posted by zanpo (22 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Um, ever hear of a gargoyle? Or see one?
posted by aramaic at 8:37 AM on December 20, 2001

Well Star Wars is a religion. To some people.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 8:38 AM on December 20, 2001

Gargoyles then and now
posted by y2karl at 8:46 AM on December 20, 2001

Too funny
posted by Greener at 8:47 AM on December 20, 2001

The page is gone from the official Washington Cathedral website, but here's the Google cache, which talks about the history of the Darth Vader grotesque.

As Washington Cathedral neared completion, "a startling idea was hatched: hold a competition for children to design decorative sculpture for the Cathedral."

"Word of the competition was spread nationwide through National Geographic World Magazine. The third-place winner was Christopher Rader, with his drawing of that fearful villain, Darth Vader. The fierce head was sculpted by Jay Hall Carpenter, carved by Patrick J. Plunkett and placed high upon the northwest tower of the Cathedral."
posted by waxpancake at 8:49 AM on December 20, 2001

This has got to be a joke. Why would they put a picture of a gargoyle on their main page? And why would it be that one? It's not even mentioned in their FAQ...
posted by bingo at 8:49 AM on December 20, 2001

That is simply amazing.

This guy claims to have worked on that particluar cathedral, and would appear to have been making some pretty unorthodox gargoyles.
posted by mragreeable at 8:52 AM on December 20, 2001

The site has a PDF that explains it as well.
(warning - approx 2mb)
posted by dataport72 at 9:00 AM on December 20, 2001

Just to clarify, in reference to the stonecarver site--Walter S. Arnold did not carve the Darth Vader gargoyle (although there was no suggestion in the link that he did; just the same...). It was a guy who lives in Maryland, whose name escapes me...
posted by datawrangler at 9:21 AM on December 20, 2001

OK, the carver's name is Patrick J. Plunkett (the guy in Maryland). The sculpter's name is Jay Hall Carpenter. It's at the end of the pdf, so for those of you with a sloooooow connection...
posted by datawrangler at 9:26 AM on December 20, 2001

I think it they should build a 'grotesque annex'... they could have sculptures of Osama bin Laden, Gary Conditt, Donald Rumsfeld, Jerry Falwell, O.J. Simpson... who else?
posted by zanpo at 9:31 AM on December 20, 2001

"Subversive" stonecarvers used to put the Green Man on cathedrals; now it's Hollywood (holly wood?) characters. "In art and sculpture the Green Man is a composite image - a face formed out of a mask of leaves, or a face disgorging or devouring leaves and vines. He is an ancient figure, linked with the Great Goddess as son, lover, and guardian. Whether as a 'foliate head' carved in a European Gothic cathedral, or as a giant who tests the hero, challenging him to impossible tasks, the Green Man is the intelligence within the dark forest, in the tree of life. He represents irrepressible life, renewal and rebirth, inspiration; he is the guardian and revealer of the mysteries of Nature, and he is the union of humanity and the natural world."
posted by Carol Anne at 9:33 AM on December 20, 2001

No, certainly I wasn't trying to say that Mr. Arnold didn't carve the Darth Vader. Just illustrating that the guys running the National Cathedral were clearly willing to pursue more modern interpretations of gargoyles.

Very cool stuff. What a great thread.
posted by mragreeable at 9:34 AM on December 20, 2001

Bizarre images are carved in much older churches all over Europe. The workmen who labored on these buildings brought a lot of unorthodox notions, superstitions, and not infrequently out-and-out paganism to the job with them and included these ideas in the decorations they carved -- especially way up high in dark corners where the bishop or the dean wasn't likely to climb up and check on 'em. Any good library will have photographic collections you can look at.
posted by jfuller at 9:37 AM on December 20, 2001

From the PDF: In the 1980s the Cathedral, with National Geographic World magazine, sponsored a competition for children to design decorative sculpture for the Cathedral. The third-place winner was Christopher Rader of Kearney, Nebraska who submitted a drawing of this futuristic representation of evil. Darth Vader was placed on the northwest tower with the other winning designs: a raccoon, a girl with pigtails and braces and a man with large teeth and an umbrella.
posted by ericost at 10:09 AM on December 20, 2001

I was a grade schooler in the 80s (and an avid reader of National Geographic World). I remember the contest quite clearly and alas I didn't win.
posted by mmascolino at 10:15 AM on December 20, 2001

This place is chock full of green men.
posted by am_nomad at 12:03 PM on December 20, 2001

How cool is this? Who ever said that organized religion has no sense of humor? If you can't think of anyone else during this year of horrors, Mr. Vader would make a great Time Person of the Year 2001.
posted by boardman at 2:17 PM on December 20, 2001

The Woolworth Building in dowtown Manhattan is full of cool gargoyles satirizing everybody from the architect to F.W. Woolworth himself.
posted by agaffin at 2:31 PM on December 20, 2001

Zanpo, don't forget to include the Ramsays, Dalmer, and Richard Simmons.
posted by wantwit at 2:46 PM on December 20, 2001

and here I was thinking somebody had some fun with Photoshop......
posted by bunnyfire at 2:54 PM on December 20, 2001

I hear there's a plan afoot to replace the statue of liberty with a pokemon 3 times her size.
posted by daragh at 4:13 PM on December 20, 2001

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