The Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico is a place of legend with a unique history. Specifically, however, the majestic Loretto Chapel Staircase is its unique draw.
The Miraculous Loretto Chapel
The history of the Loretto Chapel began when Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy was appointed by the Church to the New Mexico Territory in 1850. The Bishop desired to build a chapel as a place of worship and education. After the Bishop requested aide, the Sisters of Loretto took it upon themselves to travel to Santa Fe to erect the chapel in 1852.
Through bad weather and rough country terrain, the Sisters finally made it to Santa Fe to set about completing their mission. The journey that they undertook alone, could be considered miraculous. But the true miracle was the beautiful chapel and the staircase within it. This is where it gets very interesting!
The Sisters Needed a Staircase
The Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878. There was one problem though. There wasn’t a way to reach the choir space 22 feet above. The Sisters wished for a staircase. However, after meeting with many carpenters, it was concluded that the staircase wouldn’t fit inside the chapel, and only a ladder of some sort would work in order to reach the choir level.
However, the Sisters were not pleased with having the beautiful chapel they worked so hard on to simply have a ladder instead of a spiral staircase. Which of course they felt was much more visually appealing and fitting for such a holy place. The Sister’s solution to this problem is where the legend begins. They were said to have made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters to help build a staircase. After the 9th day of prayer a stranger, looking for work, arrived at the chapel riding a donkey while carrying a toolbox.
What is the Miracle of the Loretto Chapel Staircase?
Several months later the carpenter completed the spiral staircase and disappeared never to be seen or heard from again. Also, it’s well worth mentioning that he didn’t accept any payment nor praise for his work, he just simply disappeared. Many searched for the carpenter, even taking out advertisements in local papers, but no responses came in. Eventually, it was accepted by the Sisters and many others, that the carpenter was Saint Joseph himself, who came, in answer to the Sisters’ prayers.
The staircase was very innovative for the era, and still perplexes carpenters and architects to this very day. It has two 360 degree turns. And there is absolutely no visible sign of the usually required support (glue, nails, etc) but instead, wooden pegs were used. There are still many questions as to the types of wood used. However, no one seems to know the answers.
To this day, believers and skeptics alike, flock to The Loretto Chapel staircase to witness the miraculous. The believer’s praise God and Saint Joseph, while the skeptics remain perplexed.