The Peace Fountain at Cathedral of St. John the Divine – New York, New York - Atlas Obscura

The Peace Fountain at Cathedral of St. John the Divine

A curious fountain that has no water and includes Satan, a crab, and 9 giraffes. 


Although originally built to be a fountain, this structure has no running water on site currently. Located next to the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, the Peace Fountain was built in 1985 by Greg Wyatt to depict the struggle of good and evil, shown by the archangel Michael vanquishing Satan.

This bronze public art work is continually met with both praise and criticism. The odd mix of modern scientific findings, such as the double helix at the fountain’s base, old testament biblical depictions, exotic animals, and the decapitated head of Satan, gives quite a shock to the viewer.

Circling the fountain are a series of smaller bronze statues molded by children. These range in depiction from famous icons, such as Einstein, Socrates, and Gandhi, to odd mythical beasts and demons. For many years, there was also a white peacock that wandered around the fountain and lived in the garden of the church. (In March 2023, the peacocks retired and moved to a more bucolic location.)

A plaque at the base of the fountain offers insight to the puzzling and strange choices used in this work:

Peace Fountain celebrates the triumph of Good over Evil, and sets before us the world’s opposing forces—violence and harmony, light and darkness, life and death—which God reconciles in his peace.

When the fountain operates, four courses of water cascade down the freedom pedestal into a maelstrom evoking the primordial chaos of Earth. Foursquare around the base, flames of freedom rise in witness to the future. Ascending from the pool, the freedom pedestal is shaped like the double helix of DNA, the key molecule of life. Atop the pedestal a giant crab reminds us of life’s origins in sea and struggle. Facing West, a somnolent Moon reflects tranquility from a joyous Sun smiling to the East. The swirls encircling the heavenly bodies bespeak the larger movements of the cosmos with which earthly life is continuous.

Nine giraffes—among the most peaceable of animals—nestle and prance about the center. One rests its head on the bosom of the winged Archangel Michael, described in the bible as the leader of the heavenly host against the forces of Evil. St. Michael’s sword is vanquishing his chief opponent, Satan, whose decapitated figure plunges into the depths, his head dangling beneath the crab’s claw. Tucked away next to the Sun, a lion and lamb relax together in the peace of God’s kingdom, as foretold by the prophet Isaiah.

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