BY: IAN O’HARA
Crafted in the 19th century as a wilderness escape for New Yorkers of all social statuses, Central Park has remained a community treasure of iconic public spaces and hidden hideouts. It’s easy to find your fill of ancient bricks and awe-inspiring scenery in the maze of pathways and winding roads. And throughout the medley of boulders and bridges and burrows, there is one feature that travelers and locals alike can’t help but be drawn to: Bethesda Fountain.
For decades, park goers have been magnetised to this bronze “Angel of the Waters” located just off Terrace Drive. Bethesda Fountain serves as more than a place to sit and ponder, though–It serves as a milestone for female artists.
In 1857, sculptor Emma Stebbins was commissioned by the city of New York to craft the eight-foot neoclassical fountain. Classically trained in Rome, Stebbins was granted the opportunity by her brother Henry, who was part of Central Park Board of Commissioners, and who emphatically supported her artistry. When first looking at the statue, her most apparent features are the pronounced wings and the lily perching from her hand. Beneath the stone wings and ethereal pose, water gently flows from her roots and settles the pond down below, as if Heaven is meeting Earth. Four cherubim encircle the column beneath the angel, symbolizing Temperance, Purity, Health, and Peace – perhaps as emblematic heirlooms of the city itself.
The name Bethesda has biblical roots. In Jerusalem, Bethesda was the name for the pool outside of the city’s sheep gates that was believed to have healing powers. As described in a verse from the Gospel of Saint John, Chapter 5, the Biblical passage depicts a great multitude of people who were sick or blind, waiting for an angel to descend and bring a “troubling of the water”, to comfort them.
And on either side of the terrace’s granite landings and mustard-colored colonnades are soft rises of shaded grass, overlooking the Angel, The Mall, and those who – if only for a photographic moment – take in the tranquility of the healing waters. On one of these summer days, on the grassy knolls, you can find our signature parasols and specialty picnic spreads nestled among the patches of sun. We love Bethesda Fountain not only for its scenic beauty but for the natural community that flows atop the herringbone brick paths. And with a freshly baked baguette and our selection of fruits and cheeses, we’d love to help you find this location as a favorite of yours, too.