By Frank Ramirez
I was raised Roman Catholic, and though now I consider myself dutifully Dunker, I have cordial relationship with the church of my childhood. Personally I’d take the Dunker meetinghouse at Antietam anytime, especially when the Word is on display in the form of the Mumma Bible, but I still find it glorious to walk into a basilica with its lavish art and inspiring design.
They say every picture tells a story. Well, every stained glass window at the Minor Basilica of St. Lawrence the Deacon and Martyr in Asheville, N.C., tells God’s story. More than 70 people traveled to the basilica on one of the afternoon bus trips during National Older Adult Conference (NOAC).
Rafael Guastavina Moreno (1842-1908), who designed the basilica in Asheville, had already made a name for himself in Europe before he emigrated to the United States in 1881. From his base of operations in New York City he created a number of landmarks in the US. Ultimately he retired to Black Mountain, N.C., where he remained active with several projects, including the design of the basilica in Asheville. He died one year before the completion of St. Lawrence, and is buried in the Chapel of Our Lady.
St. Lawrence was one of seven deacons in the church of Rome responsible for the care of the poor in the congregation, who were martyred by the Emperor Valarius in the year 258. According to the story, which some credit and some do not, he was burned slowly to death on a gridiron, and is supposed to have said, after some time suffering, “I’m done on this side. Turn me over.”
Statues of St. Lawrence and St. Stephen that adorn the outside of the building feature the saints holding palm branches, a sign that they were martyred. Inside one sees the largest freestanding elliptical dome in North America, stretching 82 feet by 58 feet. Stained glass windows depict major events in the life of Christ, the two largest depicting the Transfiguration and Jesus healing the sick. In the sanctuary, which features a large tableau that includes the crucified Christ with the Beloved Disciple and Mary, his mother, standing below, the crucifix is flanked by the four evangelists and the archangels Michael and Raphael.
Walls, ceilings, floors, and pillars are made of tile or similar materials. As we were told by our guide, there is no steel or wood in any part of the structure. North Carolina granite supports the brick superstructure.
In addition to the visit to the basilica, Brethren also traveled to the nearby Botanical Gardens at Asheville. Although very few plants were in flower in late summer, there were many pleasant paths winding through trees and brush, and alongside a river. Earthworks constructed during the Battle of Asheville are mute evidence of past conflicts.