The Mysterious Staircase of Loretto Chapel
By Michael K. Jones

Mysterious Staircase of Loretto

Loretto Chapel was built in the 19th century in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The beautiful chapel houses not only a beautiful altar, and stained glass windows but a most unusual staircase that remain a marvel and mystery even to this day. Some 250 thousand people visit Loretto Chapel each year walking away in awe having seen the beautiful craftsmanship of this amazing staircase that defies the laws of construction.

When the chapel was completed in 1878, a ladder was the only means to access the choir loft. The Sisters of Loretto were afraid to climb 22 foot up the ladder and decided they needed a staircase. However, due to the small size and shape of the chapel, a staircase was believed impossible. The legend tells us the Sisters began a 9 day novena to St. Joseph, who as we know was a carpenter. On the 9th day of the novena, a man showed up saying he could build the staircase.

It is said the carpenter used only primitive tools, completing the entire job in six month by himself. He did not use a single nail or drop of glue. Even to this day, architects, engineers and scientists are puzzled by the staircases construction. It has no central support for balance. The mystery deepens as the wood use to build the staircase does not exist anywhere around the entire region. The wood is not indigenous to Santa Fe. The staircase has been affectionately become known as “The Miraculous Staircase.” It has 33 steps which some say represents the 33 year of Christ's ministry on earth.

Upon completion, the unnamed carpenter disappeared without a trace, never to be heard from again. He left quietly without any pay. To this day many say it is St. Joseph himself who built this staircase, in answer to the Sister’s 9 day novena for help.

At a later date, a railing was added to the choir loft but this addition does not take away from the fact to this day the staircase is perfectly intact and after 130 years, remains an unsolved mystery.

Note: The Chapel no longer serves as it was designed and is now privately owned but still can be visited.

History of the Building of Loretto Chapel

In 1872 Jean Baptiste Lamy, the Bishop of the Santa Fe Archdiocese, commissioned the building of a convent chapel to be named “Our Lady of Light Chapel,” which would be in the care of the Sisters of Loretto. The chapel was designed by French architect Antoine Mouly in the Gothic style complete with spires, buttresses, and stained glass windows imported from France. Although it was built on a much smaller scale, the chapel bears an obvious resemblance to the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.

The architect died suddenly and it was only after much of the chapel was constructed that the builders realized it was lacking any type of stairway to the choir loft. Due to the chapel's small size, a standard staircase would have been too large. Historians have also noted that earlier churches of the period had ladders rather than stairs to the choir loft, but the Sisters obviously did not feel comfortable with that prospect.

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