Updated: April 2019
A Wonderful Place of Worship
The Cathedral of All Souls is located at the southern tip of Biltmore Village. The church was built by George Vanderbilt in 1896 to serve as the parish church for the village, which was adjacent to the estate of → Biltmore House, and “was seen by Vanderbilt as the connecting piece for the daily life of all persons, all souls, in the region.”
Connecting Faith and Life
For over 100 years, The Cathedral of All Souls has had a vibrant history of connecting faith and life in the region. In the 1900s it sponsored a school for mountain children, and in 1930 it also supported the establishment of the Biltmore Hospital. In later decades the church became home for Asheville’s first school for children with special needs. It also established a counseling center for non-insured and under-insured persons. Education, hunger, literacy, housing, health care, economic opportunity are among the issues, which The Cathedral of All Souls has addressed in the past and continues to address to this day.
In 1995, All Souls became the first Cathedral for The Diocese of Western North Carolina. A Cathedral is a parish in which the Bishop, the chief pastor and leader of a diocese, has his seat.
Designed by Richard Morris Hunt (1827-1895), the architect of Biltmore Estate, The Cathedral of All Souls follows a Romanesque style. A square tower with a pyramid-like roof, Roman arched windows, and buttresses on each corner accentuates the central part of the church. Protruding gables, heavy timber trim, and tile roofs add some manorial elements to the church’s appearance. The church is laid out as a Greek cross featuring a short nave.
According to the church’s information, “all the windows were mouth blown, hand leaded translucent glass such as those seen today in the Parish Hall. The windows in the chancel, nave, and tower were replaced by memorial windows given by George Vanderbilt between 1898 and 1914. The opalescent art glass windows were designed and made by David Maitland Armstrong and his daughter, Helen, contemporaries of Tiffany and La Farge. The six memorial windows in the transepts depict scenes from the Bible. The tower windows were not complete at the time of Vanderbilt’s untimely death, and the last three windows were created and installed in 1996”, on the church’s 100th anniversary.
It is reported in the nomination papers for the National Register of Historic Places, that David and Helen Armstrong were accustomed to working with the architect Richard Hunt on various projects including → Biltmore House. Helen Armstrong wrote that “Mr. Hunt, the architect, was a life long friend of my father ... and we made a great many windows for the firm, perhaps the most interesting being those in All Souls Church. ...” She described that the scenes depicted in the windows were selected very carefully. “Our idea was to present both the Old and New Testament history, and at the same time to select, when possible, for each window a subject suitable to the individual commemorated. Thus charity was chosen for the window in memory of Mr. Vanderbilt’s mother, who was, I believe, a very good and lovely woman; Solomon and Hiram building the temple was considered suitable for Mr. Hunt”. Clarence Barker, who was a Vanderbilt cousin with some musical talent, was commemorated by a scene depicting David playing the harp before Saul. For Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed the landscaping for Biltmore Estate, a scene was chosen, where Jesus and the priests and scribes in the temple were placed in a landscape setting.
George Vanderbilt’s Involvement
The nomination papers also describe that George Vanderbilt assumed complete leadership and control of church affairs including the finances, stating his desire “to pay the entire expenses of the church.” He wanted to keep the church and the services unpretentious and straightforward “to make this the church of all the people in the village. He wished to attract as many as possible and repel none by reason of anything in the service.”
The Cathedral of All Souls has been part of the National Register of Historic Places since 1979.
The First Musical Director: Caryl Florio
Between 1896 and 1901, Carly Florio (1843-1920), was the church’s first musical director. Carly Florio was a famous composer, organist, and pianist, who George Vanderbilt was able to retain for the church. The name Carly Florio, however, was his pseudonym, which he started using in 1872. His real name was William James Robjohn.
William Robjohn was born in Tavistock, Devonshire UK. He taught himself music against the opposition of his parents, although his father was an organ builder. He came to New York City together with his parents in 1857 and between 1858 and 1860 was the first boy soprano singer at Trinity Church in New York City NY.
In 1881, he produced his own opera Uncle Tom.
Between 1896 and 1901, William Robjohn was the musical director at All Souls’ Church in Biltmore Village.
He returned to New York City in 1901 but moved back to Asheville two years later in 1903, where he taught choruses and choirs.
Nearly all his works appeared under his pen name Caryl Florio.
The last few years of his life, William Robjohn was a psychiatric patient at the Appalachian Hall sanatorium in Asheville, then at the State Hospital in Morganton NC, where he also died in 1920. He is buried at the Riverside Cemetery in Asheville’s historic Montford District.
A Spectacular Wedding
On April 29, 1924, Cornelia Vanderbilt, the daughter of late George Vanderbilt and Edith Vanderbilt, was married to John Francis Amherst Cecil (1890-1954) in a spectacular wedding ceremony. At the time of his engagement with Cornelia Vanderbilt, John Cecil was first secretary at the British embassy, a position from which he resigned shortly before the wedding.
As stated in The Asheville Citizen of that day, Biltmore Village “was all aglow over the attendant ceremonies. Never before had such a distinguished group of people gathered there for such an auspicious occasion. The church was crowded with invited guests while hundreds of people lingered outside on the village green while the nuptials were being solemnized. Automobiles were parked everywhere.”
The guest list included famous names such as Pulitzer, Rockefeller, Churchill, Wharton, Taft and Waldorf Astor as well as the ambassadors of Spain, France, the United Kingdom, and Italy. Many other countries had also sent government representatives.
Parish Hall was also one of Richard Hunt’s few designs in Biltmore Village. Although using the same building materials as the church, Parish House is different in many aspects. As the National Register of Historic Places points out, that the “one-and-one-half story, hipped roof, rectangular structure features a high brick watertable. Above rise pebble-dash walls with wood trim supporting a red tile roof and wide eaves. The most notable details of the building are the dramatic, well-detailed wall dormers. Wide gables with trefoil trim extend from the building and rest on brackets. The window openings, subdivided by cross-shaped muntins, contain decorative leaded glass similar in technique to the glass in the stair tower and banquet hall at Biltmore House, also by Maitland Armstrong. At the ends of the building are larger gables, carrying the ridge line of the roof past the slope of the hip. These contain a Tudor-arched frame, stucco and curvilinear half-timbers, brackets, and decorative leaded glass.”
Parish Hall and the church were initially separated by Swan Street, which connected to Hendersonville Road. After Swan Street was closed in the early 1950s, an educational wing was added in 1954, attaching Parish Hall to the church.
9 Swan Street, Asheville, NC 28803
Mon. to Fri.: 1:30pm to 4pm.
Sat.: 11am to 3pm.
STREET VIEWING ONLY.
Free street parking.
Public bus stop: All Souls Crescent at Angle Street.
Stop Gray Line Historic Trolley: 5 Boston Way (at the store Olde World Christmas Shoppe)