Was it truly a week ago that I was in Asheville, North Carolina, settling under the soft covers in the Inn at Biltmore Estates?
I had been planning the trip since the deepest part of winter, when the landscape was snowy, the lamp light low on the frosty panes, and layers of thick sweaters and woolen socks kept the chill at bay.
We wore sandals. Our cheeks were flush from the sun and our hair filled with pollen from acres and acres of peach and blue irises, plump roses, and rows and rows of gently bred orchids. And our calves ached from climbing the steep slope of a hill in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and the sweeping staircases of a four story palatial estate.
I did not expect to feel the way I did upon entering the home.
Early morning light poured in from every angle, illuminating the tiled arches far over head and landing gently on the palm fronds of the winter garden under its glass plated dome.
Bigger than Highclere Castle, the American Chateau with its Disney limestone walls and blue turrets, unravelled four acres of floor space beneath our feet. Something hit my heart and rang through my bones. Something here in the architecture was different.
At first, I believed it was the hand of the curator who had brought order and light and love to distinguish the space. Slowly I realized it was the heart and vision of a young American of last century who had drafted the most gifted architect and landscapist to create a canvas to showcase his collections, to embrace a family life with his beloved wife and daughter, and to welcome the brightest and most talented minds to re-create and refresh. It was an energetic mind, a curious and roaming intellect, a kind and generous spirit.
First, I peeled away what was missing: the dark, twisted hallways of a European castle with its many oddities and irregularities due to the ever shifting additons of ells and wings over the centuries. Heavily beamed ceilings and ornate, glass chandeliers dripping with prisms of light were missing. Dark wood paneling and heavily carved doorposts and mantels of oak were missing.
Here there was limestone, clear, clean and soft grey, reflecting the light as it wrapped smoothly over mantlepieces and archways and tiled floors and ceilings.
Here were the stark, clean lines of massive wrought iron chandliers, high overhead, like tree branches.
Here was a pattern, carefully laid out with much though and planning on how the acres of floor space would be used. A huge circle about the atrium passed by the doorways and arches of billiard room, banquet hall, breakfast room, salon, music room, each room spilling into the next through the interior, interlocking doorways. My imagination filled the space with the figure of a little girl skipping down the soaring curve of the main staircase, disappearing beyond the palms and circling round to this bench where I sit. So easy to drop out of sight, to hide in a high backed chair, or kneel behind a column, mischievous imp grinning as the footsteps of an adult echoed near and then disappeared beyond.
Opposite the atrium and its encircling chambers, beyond the great hall, the floor acreage unfurled in the long, straight line of an endless tapestry gallery hemmed with a half dozen arched glass doors to a deep, stone balustrade loggia. The loggia was trimmed with a tiled ceiling and overlooked the sweeping, panoramic view of the Mount Pisgah mountain range.
The treasure awaiting at the other end of the gallery, was the library.
Lined with thousands of books, hand-picked by the George who built the house. Book shelves that disappeared in the clouds, and approached by small ladders and spiral stairs that led to a walk that circled the room high over our heads, where more books resided, and hidden doors to the rest of the house.
And then, I realized, the fairy tale chateau that housed hundreds and hundreds of priceless objects and works of art . . . was itself art.
In the rooms, like little jewels in the clear mountain light, were the costumes of Downton Abbey, poised in action as if Cora and Robert were really wearing their Edwardian white near the palms and the Dowager leaned upon her cane in her early lavender bustle.
Father met me there in front of Violet. A unexpected longing rose in me as I viewed the slender figure and heard the ghost of her bon mots rattling laughter against the windows.
And what I knew, but could not articulate then, Spirit was laughing and eagerly waiting to share with me what lay ahead. What lies ahead for all of us who have accepted Christ. Something so much grander, kinder, clearer, lighter. There is a banquet in a mansion, and He's already there, waiting for us, and in this life, He spreads glimpses of it before us. . .
Come to the Table, He said.
Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.
~ 1 Corinthians 2:9
In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
~ Jesus, John 14:2
“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”
~ C. S. Lewis
<All images were found on Google images with the exception of the first photo of the wisteria and the last photo of Biltmore from a distance, which were taken by me .>