St. Mary's Grotesques - Atlas Obscura

St. Mary's Grotesques

Twenty carved heads in Glasgow take a comical, modern twist to the medieval apotropaic, avenger of evil.  


A landmark on Glasgow’s main arteries, the Great Western Road is the giant spire of the Cathedral of St. Mary the Virgin, more commonly referred to as St. Mary’s Cathedral.

Founded towards the end of the 18th century, this current configuration dates to the late 1800s. It was designed by Sir Gilbert Scott, the British architect behind such buildings as the St. Pancras Station and Albert Memorial in London, as well as the nearby University of Glasgow.

However, it’s a much more recent addition to the exterior of the building that may make a passerby stop dead in their tracks. The row of gothic arched windows that face out onto Great Western Road is adorned with nearly two dozen heads that appear much more current than the Victorian building’s style. These stone grotesques sport smiles, hairstyles, and even glasses. This is quite different from the more traditional warder of evil.

Towards the end of the 20th century, the church underwent renovation lasting over two decades. A decision was made to immortalize individuals who were key to the success of the reconstruction. Parishioners, clergy, and construction workers had facial likenesses etched into stone. They give the structure a more amicable and approachable welcome than their fierce and furious ancestors.


Know Before You Go

The church is open to visitors from May to September, 10 am-12:30 pm. Check the website for alternative dates and times. Even if there is no access to the interior, the exterior can be seen from the street. The nearest underground station is Kelvinbridge.

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March 6, 2024

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