Completed in 1909, the Basilica of St. Lawrence D.M. is one of Asheville's architectural treasures and spiritual anchors. Designed by Rafael Gustavino and Richard Sharpe Smith, renowned architects on the Biltmore House, this Catholic church has the largest freestanding elliptical dome in the country.
Lawrence, a deacon who served the church in the third century, was the caretaker of funds and dispenser of alms to those early Christians in need. A faithful disciple of Pope St. Sixtus, martyrdom took place three days after that of the holy Pope.
That is all that is known for certain of the life and death of St. Lawrence. The writings of St. Ambrose, the poet Prudentius and others, with details about his life and death, have been adopted by Christian tradition.
This tradition holds that Lawrence anticipating the martyrdom predicted for him by Pope St. Sixtus, gave all the money in his care to the poor and the proceeds from the sale of the sacred vessels he distributed in like fashion.
The prefect of Rome believed that Lawrence had hidden still more of the church's treasures and he wanted to secure them for the emperor and himself. The prefect was angered when Lawrence showed him lepers, cripples, orphans, widows, the poor and the lame as the Church's true treasures. Lawrence was condemned to a slow, painful death by the irate prefect. A large gridiron was made ready and glowing coals were put under it that Lawrence might be slowly burnt. After suffering a long time, and praying for the conversion of Rome, he died.
It is stated that his death marked the death of idolatry in Rome. Christianity spread and many miracles were worked through the Intercession of St. Lawrence, who has been one of the most venerated martyrs of the Roman Church since the fourth century.