Pope Francis at Cologne Cathedral

Cologne Cathedral now has a gargoyle of Pope Francis! It’s not a water-course gargoyle, but rather an indoor architectural detail. It appears on the main portal, right above King Solomon. He is kindly smiling.


    1. It’s neither a joke nor papolatry. And I think that’s fairly obvious unless one has something against Pope Francis.

      1. Was it a common practice to erect gargoyles in Gothic Cathedrals?

        This seems pretty alien to the tradition of gargoyles and of Catholic statuary in general…

      2. Fr. Ruff,

        I think that you misunderstood my question. What my question was intended to mean is whether gargoyles were erected after the construction of a cathedral… My apologies if my question wad too vague.


      3. If I may jump in here. . .

        In Gothic cathedrals the decorative motifs in the stonework, on the walls and columns, etc, are certainly subject to additions long after the first construction — this is quite normal, even aside from repairs and reconstructions after the buildings have fallen down or been damaged by wars or natural disasters. The Cathedral in Cologne, begun in 1248, was not completed until 1880. The main entrance is covered with nineteenth century decoration.

        As I noted in another comment, Cologne’s stone masons have added a number of gargoyles even in our own lifetime — including public figures still living and mythical figures. So, adding a gargoyle would not be a first, although it is the first time that an image of Pope Francis has been rendered in stone in one of the great cathedrals in Europe, to my knowledge.

      4. Strictly speaking, a gargoyle normally refers to a sculpted figure (often but not always a grotesque figure) that acts as a drainage spout.

        That said, medieval churches and cathedrals often abounded in a variety of sculpted furnishings where contemporary figures could be remembered or satirized, such as the capitals/dosserets of columns/piers (more typical of Romanesque than Gothic), bosses at the junction of ribbed vaults or, even more typically, the misericords of seats in the choir. And, after decay or acts of iconoclasm (whether in the Reformation or the era of Revolutions and world wars), there’s a long tradition of replacement.

      5. Rita,

        I think that you are justifying this addition with a generalization. Was it a common practice to add sculptures of incumbent Popes during their pontificate?


      6. Hi Jacob,

        I thought I was answering your question, which was phrased as a general question. It seems now that you actually have an objection rather than a question.

        But it is not clear what you are objecting to.

        At first it seemed you were concerned about modern additions to medieval structures.

        Now it seems you are concerned about popes.

        But you also seem to be concerned about reigning popes.

        Or are you just concerned because you don’t like Pope Francis?

        If it is the last, then no answer will help you.

      7. Rita,

        I’m not concerned about popes or incumbent popes… I’m concerned that this is not an appropriate addition to this magnificent cathedral. That’s all I’m asking.


    1. I think it is an affectionate gesture. The placement at the door suggests a consistent theme of Francis’s preaching, which is to go out, and also to welcome the stranger and reach out to all people with love. To pair him with Solomon is also a tribute to his gift of wisdom. The small figure appears whimsical (in the way that many Romanesque carvings also do), but I would not call it irreverent. It is being promoted by the cathedral itself and there is an article on the website of the German church. This would never happen if it were intended disrespectfully or tongue-in-cheek. Personally, I find it delightful.

      The carving was first placed somewhere more inaccessible (I am not sure where) but then they moved it to the portal, where it has been for a week. I bet this is a tourist draw. Francis stopped a proposal to create a statue of himself in Buenos Aires, but I have heard of no objections from the Vatican to this little stone figure in Cologne.

      There are other stone carvings of modern figures in the cathedral too, including famous athletes and political persons in a pose of dialogue. JFK is there, for instance. But they are lodged in remote recesses.

  1. Other representations of His Holiness appear at this time of year, less permanent than in stone. On November 5th the Pope is traditionally burned in effigy at Lewes in Sussex (UK) as part of the Guy Fawkes Day celebrations


  2. Actually the figure is not so much a gargoyle as a very small corbel figure decorating the canopy above the statue of King Solomon. It was a replacement for a worn and damaged figure as part of the continuing repairs from age and WWII bombs. From the time of the building of medieval cathedrals these were usually lighthearted figures of contemporary persons, personality types, and fictional characters. As cathedrals around Europe continue to be renewed and repaired they have come to include astronauts, Darth Vader, football stars, and in another place at Cologne, since the 1960’s Nikita Khrushchev and JFK in perpetual conversation.

  3. Creepy doesn’t begin to describe it. The maker of this thing makes his point, shows it. Gee, why is Bergoglio bent over like that?

    1. it actually depicts him doing what he says Christians should be doing: bending down to help someone in need as the Good Samaritan did to help the wounded man by the roadside and as he does every year when he washes feet on Holy Thursday. Gee, why do you think Pope Francis is bent down like that? Care to share your true thoughts with us? You surely have an opinion…

      1. His bending over never gave me the impression it had to do with the Good Samaritan. I also never really have any thought to his position.

  4. As others have pointed out, there is a rich tradition of carving the faces of kings, bishops, popes, deans, the local craftsmen etc into the fabric of medieval cathedrals. Sometimes they were done reverently, sometimes less so. This is just the latest example.
    Apart from that, the phrase “storm in a tea cup” springs to mind.

  5. View from the Pew
    Regarding: the image of Francis of Rome.
    – In the statues current placement it is nice that people who are short in relation to the statue’s elevation might see the face of the good archbishop which captures his wide open smile often seen in photographs. Were the statue more erect I imagine (never having been there) that one would need some distance from the statue and a telescope to see whose face is represented.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *