Central Park is home to numerous charming and exquisite spots. One of its most well-known and most visited gems is Bethesda Terrace and the “Angel of the Waters” fountain. Saturday, after modeling at the National Academy, I decided to take a stroll over to Bethesda via the 72nd Street walkway. The earlier overcast sky from the morning had cleared to bright summer blue with white puffs of clouds. Bethesda, with its gently spilling water, winged angel, and majestic staircases, attracted tourists and New Yorkers alike. The layout and setting of Bethesda is incredibly inviting, as it was intended to be.
The vision of Central Park designers Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux is represented magnificently at Bethesda Terrace, a spot they expected to serve as the heart of the park and was inspired more by the essence of nature than by architecture. This can be seen in the detailed carvings which flank the steps from the top level of the Terrace to the bottom.
These enchanting birds and plants are the work of Jacob Wrey Mould. I love them. Here’s a closeup:
The fountain was commissioned as part of the park’s original design plan, and the bronze angel sculpture is the work of Emma Stebbins, a well-connected native New Yorker. The piece was created to honor the successful Croton Aqueduct, a notable achievement in civil engineering, which went into operation in 1842 and was responsible for delivering a reliable supply of clean water to city residents. Although the old Croton Aqueduct is no longer in use, it set the standard for New York City’s famously excellent tap water. We’ve got good tasting water, folks :-)
Here she is, the Bethesda angel atop the fountain, soaring tall against the summer sky:
In keeping with the theme of healthy, nourishing water, the name “Bethesda” was chosen after the Biblical reference to the healing pool in Jerusalem where the sick and infirm went to be cured. From the book of John: “and Jesus went up to Jerusalem,. Now there is in Jerusalem by the Sheep Gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porches. In these lay a great multitude of sick people, blind, lame, paralyzed, waiting for the moving of the water … for an angel went down … and stirred up the water; then whoever stepped in first, after the stirring of the water, was made well of whatever disease he had.” (NKJV)
The ripples and splashes of the fountain’s water streams are indeed calming, and the restorative effects are felt however you wish to receive them, whether in spiritual or earthly manner. Although the site is secular and civic in nature, the Bethesda fountain holds a celestial aura that seems to communicate healing, hope, and rebirth. The final scene of Angels in America features the spot quite beautifully and effectively because of these qualities.
I took all the photos in this post and if the quality of them seems irregular it’s because my camera battery died after I took only a few pictures! So I had to default into Blackberry cam. I wanted to capture Bethesda any way I could and share it with all of you. Here’s one more for the road: