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Church of St. Lawrence

Photo courtesy of City Development, City of Asheville, North Carolina

Rafael Guastavino (1842-1908), an architect and builder of Spanish origin, came to Asheville to work on the Biltmore House in the mid-1890s. After completing his work at Biltmore, Guastavino settled in nearby Black Mountain. He soon declared the city needed a bigger Catholic church and with the help of friend and architect Richard Sharp Smith began planning an opulent testament to the local Catholic community's faith. Construction on the basilica began in 1905 and was completed in 1909 by Raphael Guastavino, Jr. after his father died in 1908. The senior Guastavino is interred in a niche in the church.

Guastavino was credited with the revival of an ancient tile and mortar building system that had been practiced in the Catalan region of his native Spain. This method used layers of thin tile bedded in layers of mortar to create curved horizontal surfaces. By 1900 Guastavino successfully transferred his patented building method to the United States and worked with the Nation's leading architects.

[photo] Views of the center dome and decorative frieze of St. Lawrence
Photos courtesy of North Carolina Collection, Pack Memorial Public Library, Asheville, North Carolina and Historic Resource Commission, City of Asheville, North Carolina

The Spanish Renaissance Revival style Church of St. Lawrence contains no beams of wood or steel in the entire building; all walls, floors, ceilings and pillars are of tile or other masonry materials. The center dome, which has a clear span of 58 by 82 feet, is reputed to be the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America. The roof is tile with a copper covering. Special interior features of the basilica include a Spanish woodcarving dating from the mid-17th century that represents Jesus, Mary, and St. John at the Crucifixion; a 17th-century painting of "The Visitation" by Massimo Stanzione; stained glass windows taken from the church building formerly on this site; and 10 semicircular windows made in Munich, Germany, which depict scenes from the life of Jesus.

The Church of Saint Lawrence is located 97 Haywood St. The church is open to the public. Please call 828-252-6042 or visit the church's website for information on tours and services.

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