Raton Pass, NM High 83 Low 40
Many years ago my Dad got an e-mail from one of his friends about the Loretto Chapel and the miracle staircase. He was fascinated by this story and always hoped he could see it in person. That didn’t happen. So I made the pilgrimage for him.
In the year 1610 (10 years before the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock) the Spanish founded a town that is now known as Santa Fe, the capitol of New Mexico. Santa Fe was originally called the Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi or, as it was named in Spanish, La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Assisi. It was occupied by Indians, Mexicans, and Spanish. In 1848 this area was ceded to the United States.
In 1852 the Sisters of Loretto responded to a plea from Bishop Jean Lamy for nuns to help teach the people in Santa Fe. They sent seven sisters who arrived in Santa Fe in 1852 and opened the Academy of Our Lady of Light (Loretto) in1853.
It was decided that the school needed a chapel so the sisters raised the $30,000 required to build this beautiful chapel which was completed in 1878.
Two mysteries surround the spiral staircase in the Loretto Chapel: the identity of its builder and the physics of its construction.
When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, there was no way to access the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded access to the loft would have to be via ladder as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small Chapel.
Legend says that to find a solution to the seating problem, the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later, the elegant circular staircase was completed, and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself, having come in answer to the sisters' prayers.
The stairway's carpenter, whoever he was, built a magnificent structure. The stairway confounds architects, engineers and master craftsmen. It makes over two complete 360-degree turns, stands 20’ tall and has no center support. It rests solely on its base and against the choir loft. The risers of the 33 steps are all of the same height. Made of an apparently extinct wood species, it was constructed with only square wooden pegs without glue or nails.
This is what the stairs would have looked like before the hand rail was installed. This picture is computer generated by someone (not me). I think it looks even more amazing and miraculous without the hand rail.
Loretto Chapel is now a private museum operated and maintained, in part, for the preservation of the Miraculous Staircase and the Chapel itself. There is a $3 admission fee.
Dad, I wish you could have been there in person with me, but I hope you enjoyed it from your world now. And I’m sure Mom took time out from doing the Lord’s work to join us. I love and miss you both.