BYU celebrating 20th anniversary of arrival of ‘Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda’

PROVO, Utah — The signature piece in the Brigham Young University Museum of Art’s vast collection — Carl Bloch’s painting “Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda” — arrived on campus on Sept. 10, 2001.

A day later, the world changed forever. The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, triggered pain, fear and uncertainties that still linger.

But for countless BYU students and museum patrons, Bloch’s beloved altarpiece has provided a symbolic salve. It continues to offer a reminder of the hope and healing offered by the Savior.

The Museum of Art is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its acquisition of “Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda” with a new display, a series of commemorative events, a new docuseries and several other features on the museum’s website and app.

“The Museum of Art is thrilled at the opportunity to celebrate this pivotal masterwork of our collection,” said Ashlee Whitaker, the museum’s Roy and Carol Christensen curator of religious art, in a museum release. “Carl Bloch’s ‘Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda’ is emblematic of Christ’s compassion, empathy and His poignant invitation to each of us to be made whole through His grace and love. 

“This anniversary allowed us to dive more deeply into the history of the painting and its ministering impact, as well as the providential acquisition of this piece — which arrived in Provo the day prior to the terrorist attacks of 9/11 — and appreciate its unique presence and influence on our campus.”

Located in the West Lied Gallery, the painting remains a visual anchor at the museum. In a nod to its Danish past, a new display showcases the painting as it was originally framed in Copenhagen, Denmark.

An updated display showcases “Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda” as it was originally framed in Copenhagen, Denmark.
An updated display showcases “Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda” as it was originally framed in Copenhagen, Denmark. Credit: Jason Swensen, Church News

Meanwhile, several modern elements at the museum enhance the viewing experience. Placed on the edges of the painting are new informative text panels and digital  content — including a series of short films and interviews produced by the documentary production company The Plains, according to the museum.

Many of those digital features are also available at moa.byu.edu and on the BYU Museum of Art app. Several curators and educators will also present a number of special gallery talks during the year focusing on the altarpiece and its timeless legacy and message.

“Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda” was unveiled to the public soon after its BYU arrival.  

“We hope that as people view the painting they will come to better appreciate the Savior as the real source of peace and strength,” said Mary Lois Wheatley, who, with her husband, Jack R. Wheatley, provided financial support for the painting’s acquisition.

“Christ Healing the Sick at Bethesda” was inspired by a courageous episode in the Savior’s life when He healed an invalid near Bethesda’s bubbling pools on the Sabbath (John 5). 

Carl Heinrich Bloch (1834-1890) painted more than 20 major pieces on the life of the Savior. He studied with Latter-day Saint artist C.C.A. Christensen, a fellow Dane who famously captured the Latter-day Saint pioneer experience in a panorama of large paintings.