Our History

Welcome to the Cathedral of All Souls. We hope that this information about our historic buildings will make your visit more interesting, and we invite you to join us at our services of worship.

On November 8, 1896, All Souls Episcopal Church was consecrated. Its name and geography have formed and shaped its life for over 100 years. The church is situated in the hub of a fan shaped group of streets that is Biltmore Village. Built by George Vanderbilt as the parish church for the village adjacent to the Biltmore House, it was seen by Vanderbilt as the connecting piece for the daily life of all persons, all souls, in the region.

This mission, connecting faith and life in the region, is seen throughout the life of All Souls. In its early days it sponsored a school for mountain children and in later decades was the home for Asheville’s first school designed for children with special needs. In its early days it supported the establishment of a nearby hospital, and in recent years has established a therapeutic counseling center for non-insured and under-insured persons. Education, hunger, literacy, housing, health care, economic opportunity are among the issues that have been and are engaged by the people of All Souls to address the well being of all persons in Western North Carolina and beyond.

This work has been immersed in a deeply rich tradition of worship and the sacred. Attention to music, artistic expression of many types, preaching and a profound appreciation of mystery has shaped our worship life for generations. Evensongs, patronal day requiems, contemplative prayer groups, spiritual retreats, artistic festivals and performances complement the weekly Eucharistic offerings of All Souls and are a source for our connection to God, each other, ourselves and the world about us.

On January 1, 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 their seat, ‘cathedra’ in Latin. As a Cathedral, All Souls serves as a gathering place for the diocese, a house of prayer for all persons and a symbol for God’s desire to gather all persons around one table.

The interplay of our engagement with the world about us and gathering for worship has deepened the experience of both for the generations of people connected to All Souls.
Our future will be a continuation of our past: being a place for spiritual searching and gathering, a place for refuge and inspiration, a place of imagination and proclamation, a place for all souls.

Architectural History

Richard Morris Hunt, known as the Dean of American Architecture, built only six churches in his career. Five of those have burned or been demolished, leaving All Souls as the only Hunt church in the world.

The style of the church is primarily Romanesque Revival carried out in Hunt's manorial vernacular developed for Biltmore. The red brick, pebble-dash stucco, and heavy timber trim are prominent in the auxiliary buildings on the estate and in the Hunt-designed anchor buildings in the village: the church and parish hall, the depot and the estate office.

Other stylistic observations have suggested that the style of the main church building is from the Norman period of transition from Romanesque to Gothic. The basic plan is cruciform (cross shaped), using proportions of the Greek cross, which features a short nave or main body of the room. The design is said to be inspired by abbey churches in Northern England, though the apse, or semi-circular chancel, is characteristic of churches in Southern France.

Originally, 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, All Souls Centennial.

The chancel organ, installed in 1971 by the Casavant Organ Company of Canada, is composed of three manual divisions and pedal. The older antiphonal organ over the front door contains a composite of older pipe work including a four-foot flute rank saved from the original 1896 Geo. S. Hutchings Organ. The chancel and antiphonal organs together comprise fifty five ranks with almost three thousand pipes in six divisions--all controlled from the recently restored and updated three manual console located in the chancel.

The pulpit, lectern, high altar, bishop's chair, chancel furniture, pews, and kneeling cushions are all original. The baptismal font, located in the northeast anteroom, was carved by Karl Bitter. Many cushions have needlepoint covers designed and stitched by parishioners and friends as memorials and thanksgivings done from the late 1960's to the present. Festival banners also were designed and executed by parishioners.

The octagonal building behind the chancel apse and ambulatory houses robing rooms for the choir; although not part of the original design, it was added soon after the building was consecrated.

Designed and constructed simultaneously with the Church, the Parish Hall (Zabriskie Hall) is used for many parish functions and community organization meetings.

In 1954 the All Saints Memorial Church School, composed of the Beadle and Hope Cloisters, Owen Library, Straus Kindergarten Building, and the Northup Room joined the Church and Parish Hall. The school encloses Claiborn Garth (garden). The design consultant for this 1954 connector/addition was Philip Hubert Frohman, architect of the Washington Cathedral, and the architects were William Waldo Dodge, Jr., and Ludovic Alexander.

Marianne Zabriskie, the late wife of the first dean of the cathedral, Cornelius A. Zabriskie, designed the cross atop the church tower. It was installed in 1961, soaring ten feet above the red tiles. It consists of two Celtic crosses, the circles representing the eternal nature of God and the interdependence of all the world through Christ.

The Bells

In 1977, the first bell was installed at All Souls. In 1998, a set of Westminster Peal Bells was installed alongside the original bell. These were produced by The van Bergen Company of Charleston, South Carolina. The ringing of the bells in various celebrations and at the hour and half-hour contributes to the community presence of All Souls in Biltmore Village.