A Basilica birthday bash

Rafael Gustavino gets well-deserved recognition for his architectural accomplishments, especially for his patented arches and domes. And in fact, he is entombed within the domed Basilica St. Lawrence, which he designed and which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year.

A Century note:The Basilica of St. Lawrence turns 100 this week, celebrating with concerts and a Spanish Fiesta. Photo by Jonathan Welch

But the master architect was also a composer and violinist. When Gustavino died in 1908, his son dedicated the Basilica's first pipe organ to honor his father's love of music.

"He was a musical talent. Few people know that," says Alice Cella, chair of the Basilica's Centennial celebration taking place Oct. 11-17. So during one of those evenings, attendees will get to hear one of Gustavino's own compositions played through the very pipes that his son donated (the pipes are all that remain of the original organ).

A lot can happen to a town in 100 years. Most downtown Asheville's buildings that were standing in 1909 have since been replaced or repurposed. But the Basilica of St. Lawrence (who is, by the way, the patron Saint of cooks and chefs — a role as appropriate as any for Asheville) has remained the Asheville outpost of the Roman Catholic Church.

The week-long party begins Sunday, Oct. 11, with a Spanish Fiesta in the rear parking lot that will feature mariachi music, dancing and food, a fitting homage to the Valencia, Spain-born Gustavino. The following week, visitors can take free guided tours of the church (1 to 4 p.m., Oct. 12 to 14), and then attend the Oct. 16 concert at 7 p.m.. "The acoustics are absolutely perfect in that room," Cella says, pointing out the dome was designed to channel the voice of a priest leading mass (and facing away from the congregation) in the days before microphones.

The design is so tuned in that Cella says whispers can be heard clearly across the sanctuary."We joke that there is no such thing as a secret in that room," Cella says.

The Centennial celebration will conclude with an 11 a.m. mass conducted by the Diocese of Charlotte on Saturday, Oct. 17, followed by a reception at the Haywood Park Hotel, and invitations have gone out to several hundred priests and bishops, according to Cella.

"It's going to be a good party," she says.


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