Grotesques – the Column Swallowers (Dennis Aubrey)


We’ve seen ample evidence of the imagination of the Romanesque sculptors, but one of our recent favorites, the Column Swallower, has become the most recent proof. According to the limited research that I’ve been able to find on the subject, they are found mostly in the Aquitaine and in England. The four that I’m showing here are from the area around Poitiers, in the Vienne.

"Column Swallower" at Église Saint-Nicolas, Civray (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

These clever figures serve as capitals, usually, and are among the many apotropaic figures found in medieval churches. The preceding column-swallower is on the west portal of the magnificent church in Civray, as is the wonderfully comic version next.

Spiky-haired "Column-Swallower" at Église Saint-Nicolas, Civray (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

This next version is a wonderful triplet from Columbiers, just north of Poitiers.

Triple set of "Column Swallowers" at Église Notre-Dame de Colombiers (Vienne) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

The final is one of my favorites, from the small church of Saint-Romans-lès-Melle, south of Poitiers. If the purpose of the figure is to ward off evil, this one would certainly do the job.

"Column Swallower" from Église Paroissiale Saint-Romans, Saint-Romans-lès-Melle (Deux-Sèvres) Photo by Dennis Aubrey

Some French observers believe that the figures represent the dangers that threaten the building, which reflect the dangers that threaten the Church itself. Some observers also believe that the creatures are not swallowing, but spewing, the columns. Whatever the purpose, they demonstrate the free-ranging imagination of the medieval sculptor.

3 responses to “Grotesques – the Column Swallowers (Dennis Aubrey)

  1. Dennis, I always thought these resembled heads on stakes–something that would have been a common sight in the Middle Ages.

    • It seems to me that the mouths are engulfing the columns and the creatures are certainly animated. In fact, some of the seem to positively relish the act. Some people refer to them as column spewers, which is also an interesting take.

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