What Do Asheville, New York, and Barcelona Have in Common?

The St. Lawrence Basilica in Asheville, North Carolina, the Casa Orlandai in Barcelona, Spain, and Carnegie Hall in New York, New York all have something in common. Each of these very different cities features the Spanish Baroque architecture of Rafael Guastavino. Born in Valencia, Spain, the progressive architect moved to the United States in 1881 and eventually made his home in the Blue Ridge Mountains, part of the Appalachian Mountains in North Carolina, after he was selected to work on the Biltmore Estate project in Asheville.

While Guastavino’s work on the Biltmore Estate project showcased his mastery of the centuries-old Spanish building process using the boveda Catalana, or Catalan vault, it is the St. Lawrence Basilica that has become one of his most significant achievements. The dome of the church, at 58 by 82 feet, is said to be one of the largest freestanding domes in North America and is a testament to Guastavino’s expertise in design and construction. After his death in 1908, Guastavino was interred in a crypt within the basilica near the main altar.

Formally called the Minor Basilica of St. Lawrence the Deacon & Martyr, the St. Lawrence Basilica is a minor basilica in the Roman Catholic Church. The church, elevated to its current status of basilica in 1993, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and attracts tourists for both its religious and architectural importance. Located in the Downtown Asheville Historic District, the basilica was completed in 1909 and serves as an active church and one of Asheville’s most beautiful and unique buildings.


The exterior of the building was designed and built in the architectural style of the Spanish Renaissance, with a massive stone foundation, intricate tile work, and towering, dome-capped towers. The central dome itself is made entirely of interlaced self-supporting tiles covered by a layer of copper. The basilica’s namesake, St. Lawrence, stands prominently above the main facade between statues of St. Stephen and St. Aloysius Gonzaga.

The main entrance is crowned by a lunette, an architectural element with a half-moon shape, featuring painted terracotta carvings of Christ and Peter. Below the lunette, the Basilica of St. Lawrence Coat of Arms is displayed in traditional stained glass. For architectural buffs, it’s interesting to note that there are no beams in the entire structure’s interior or exterior, a testament to the stability and style of the design and construction.


The interior of the basilica, adorned with stained glass, intricately carved statues, and beautiful tile and masonry, is dominated by the massive dome-shaped ceiling above. The architecture and the craftsmanship create an atmosphere of centuries past as visitors move through the spacious, open main church. Above the main altar, a Spanish woodcarving from the middle seventeenth century depicts Mary and St. John at the Crucifixion. The walls above the altar are adorned with painted terracotta and the two archangels, St. Raphael and St. Michael, stand guard on either side of the altar.

The main chapel diverges into smaller areas such as the Chapel of Our Lady and the Eucharistic Adoration Chapel. Frescos, white marble statues, and a significant amount of stained glass adorn these small areas with depictions of events and people that are part of the history of the Roman Catholic Church. One of the more unique works in these areas is the 17th-century painting of the Visitation, attributed to the Italian Baroque painter Massimo Stanzione.

If You’re Going

The basilica grounds include a rectory, a library, a gift shop, and the Mary Garden with it’s white statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Visitors can take self-guided tours or schedule a complimentary tour by visiting the St. Lawrence website. The church is open every day, and visitors are welcome to tour the building and grounds except during mass or other scheduled events. Mass times, confession times, devotionals, and other activities are listed on the church’s website as well as guides for self-guided tours and additional information.

Be sure to visit the St. Lawrence Basilica the next time you are in or near Asheville for an unexpected Appalachian experience. The unique architecture, history, and beauty of the church will be a memorable part of your visit to Western North Carolina. If you’ve been to the basilica or are planning on visiting, we would love to hear your comments. If you enjoyed this post or our website in general, please share on Facebook or other social media.


External sources: http://biography.yourdictionary.com/rafael-guastavino