Just down the road from our store is the Basilica of St. Lawrence, located at 97 Haywood Street. The church has a rich history and a beautiful collection of vividly-colored stained glass windows, all of which were handmade in Munich, Germany.
Rafael Guastavino (1842-1908) was an architect and builder of Spanish origin who left Barcelona and came to Asheville to work on the Biltmore House in the mid-1890s. He decided to stay and built a home near Black Mountain. In 1905 Guastavino began work on St. Lawrence Catholic Church in the style of Spanish Renaissance. The work was completed in 1909.
There are no beams of wood or steel in the entire structure. The dome in the Basilica of St. Lawrence is said to be the largest unsupported dome in North America.
His method of building used layers of thin tile bedded in layers of mortar to create curved horizontal surfaces. Floors, roofs, ceilings and stairs can all be formed with this system, usually in the shape of vaults or domes. Possibly Middle Eastern in origin, this way of building creates a strong, fireproof and attractive surface. Every horizontal surface in the building is made of this combination of tile and mortar. The building also houses the crypt of Rafael Guastavino.
Guastavino’s work may be found in over a thousand buildings, mainly in the northeast, including Grant’s Tomb, the Great Hall at Ellis Island, Grand Central Station, Carnegie Hall and the Chapel at West Point all in New York. His other work in North Carolina includes the Duke Chapel in Durham, the Jefferson Standard Building in Greensboro, the Motley Memorial in Chapel Hill and St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Wilmington. Tours of the Basilica are available on Sunday afternoons and by appointment.