Not content with rebuilding the Cathedral in an architectural style which, he believed, was more fitting for worship, Bishop Lamy also commissioned the small Loretto Chapel a little to the south of it – the first Gothic structure to be built west of the Mississippi, modelled on King Louis IX's Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. Outside the chapel is a tree hung with rosaries, which is interesting in the light of the fact that the chapel was desanctified in 1971 and sold to a private family. This family have preserved it well, hiring it out for weddings and opening it to the public each day. There is an admission charge of $3 (September 2011 prices) and it is well worth paying this small fee for a glimpse inside.
The chapel is richly decorated with stained glass windows from France and Stations of the Cross from Italy, but what makes it special is the so-called miraculous spiral staircase that leads to the choir loft. Fashioned beautifully from an apparently extinct species of wood, it twists elegantly upwards with no central pole to support it, resting solely on its base and against the loft, and making over two complete 360-degree turns as it climbs. It is 20 feet high and was constructed without glue or nails, using only square wooden pegs to hold the parts together.
One story goes that the Sisters of Loretto had been given the funds by Lamy to build their chapel, but that the money ran out before they could build a stair to reach their choir loft. Another version says that the small size of the chapel meant that no carpenter could identify a way to fit a staircase into the space. Both versions go on to tell how the Sisters made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a mysterious carpenter appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. He worked at the staircase for six months, never saying a word, and then left, without taking any payment. 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. Certainly the carpenter was never heard from again, although some historians claim to have tracked him down to Las Cruces, where he met his end in a bar fight. Whatever its origins, the staircase is beautiful, and even the later addition of balustrades and handrails (for safety reasons) cannot detract from the simple grace of its upwards sweep.
After a stroll around the plaza, we followed the Old Santa Fe Trail, which is a street now. It led us to this pretty little chapel.
Construction of Loretto Chapel (1873) was commissioned by Jean Baptiste Lamy, a French priest sent to Santa Fe to bring about a separation of the devoted Catholics of New Mexico from those of Mexico.
Lamy was overseeing work on St. Francis Cathedral, so used his laborers and craftsmen to construct the Loretto Chapel, as well. Being enamoured with European architecture, he chose details of that style for both churches.
At Lamy's urging, nuns from Missouri arrived to establish a school in Santa Fe in 1853. Several years later, when funding grew short and the chapel needed work, the nuns fervently prayed for help. One day an unknown carpenter appeared in town--was he an answer to their prayers?
One of his projects (1878) was to build a staircase which would reach from the floor of the sanctuary to the top of the choir loft. The carpenter crafted a spiraling wood staircase which made two complete turns on its journey towards the ceiling, yet seemingly having no visible support. Some said it was 'miraculous" (see picture #2).
Once his work was finished, the carpenter disappeared and never received payment for his work. He purportedly ended up in Las Cruces, where he met an untimely end.
Hours are 9:00am-5:00pm Mon.-Sat.; 10:30am-5pm on Sun. Admission is $2.50. A gift shop has been added to the church (see picture #3).The chapel has been desanctified and is privately owned; weddings are still performed here.
I love mysteries and so I try to go to mysterious places when I see one – like this unusual spiral staircase that has two 360 degree turns but no supports to explain it….why and how was it made?
Legend has it that it the Sisters of the Chapel Loretto (which was completed in 1878) needed a way to access the choir loft which was 22 feet above the ground in the chapel. The nuns made a novena or prayer to the patron of carpenters, St. Joseph, and on the 9th day and final prayer, a man with a donkey and a toolbox came in and completed the staircase! Without pay and not even waiting for the nuns to say thank you!
There were no visible signs of support and before this was more striking when the staircase had no railings, but later nuns had railings done so that nobody falls when singing on the staircase. The structure was also made without any nails and just by the use of wooden pegs! Because of this, it has been called a Miraculous Staircase and has even been included in the TV series, “Unsolved Mysteries”.
We went there just before 10AM and I think it was still closed for public viewing because there was a mass which started at about 0900 AM. I saw the people coming out after mass and a very nice lady in religious robes held my hand and said, “You missed the mass!” She was talking to me like she had known me for years and I felt comfortable with her. I said it’s okay and so we waited for the people to have left the place and we entered the regular way through paying an entrance which I think was less than $5 each (was it $2.50, I can’t remember?). But it was a small contribution in exchange for seeing the wonder inside…the place is still a Chapel and so we prayed while in it and it was very solemn and the twins behaved inside as well.
This chapel was begun in 1873 and finished in 1878. It was fashioned after Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. In fact, the stained glass was bought from the DuBois Studio in Paris. It is most famous for the Miraculous Staircase, which was constructed sometime between 1877 and 1881, and took at least 6 months to build. The staircase features two 360-degree turns with no visible means of support. No nails were used; only wooden pegs.
The Loretto Chapel was built in 1978 in the Gothic-Revival style of King Louis IX's Sainte Chapelle in Paris. Popular today for weddings, it was originally built for the Sisters of Loretto whose school was conceived in 1853. It's intricate “Miraculous Staircase” is reportedly built by St. Joseph the Carpenter and seemingly defies gravity with no means of support aside from its own structure.
The Miraculous Staircase was built sometime between 1877 and 1881. It took at least six months to build, has two 360 degree turns with no visible means of support, and was built without access to the choir loft. The legend says that the nuns prayed and a mysterious carpenter came to town and volunteered to build the staircase. He build it without nails, center support or rails and then disappeared without being paid. The implication being that it was constructed or inspired by St. Joseph the Carpenter.
Wikipedia tells us about another theory... Recently, a local historian, Mary Jean Straw Cook, published evidence to suggest the craftsman was the French-born Francois-Jean Rochas, who came to the United States as a member of a celibate order of artisans and settled in New Mexico. Items pointing to his authorship included the testimony of Quintus Monier, who built the nearby St Francis Cathedral, and a death notice in The Santa Fe New Mexican in 1895, describing Rochas as "an expert worker in wood [who] built the staircase in the Loretto chapel". Ms Straw Cook also found in the Sisters' logbook an entry for March 1881: "Paid for wood Mr Rochas, $150.00."
The findings, published in the revised edition of Ms Straw Cook's book, "Loretto: The Sisters and Their Santa Fe Chapel," suggest the staircase was built in France and fitted by Rochas. That would explain why it appeared so suddenly, and why it might have given rise to the legend of the miraculous saint.
Built in the late 1800s, Loretto Chapel is most famous for it's spiral staircase which gives access to the raised choir loft.
When the chapel had been completed, carpenters were called to advise on how the loft could be accessed but advised that, due to the limited interior space, access would need to be via a ladder. Legend states that the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to Saint Joseph (patron saint of carpenters) and on the ninth day of prayer, a man appeared looking for work. Months later the beautiful circular staircase was completed and the carpenter vanished, having received no payment for his work. The Sisters searched hard for the man who had given them such a magnificent gift but found no trace, some concluding that it was Saint Joseph himself who had answered their prayers.
It is said that the staircase, which makes two full 360 degree turns and has no visible means of support, was built without nails, using only wooden pegs. What is now referred to as The Miraculous Staircase attracts visitors from around the world.
It is unfortunately that the Chapel is now owned by a commercial organisation who have turned it into a weddings venue and introduced a visitor centre and shop which you exit through.
The Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe is home to a famous miracle! The spiral staircase built with no nails or real support. The shape of it is extraordinary without any support. The cost is 3 dollars to see the church and it's staircase. The staircase was built by an unknown carpenter who was commissioned from the sisters of the order to build a staircase for their loft area of the church. He did his work, but when the work was done. He disappeared. The nuns couldn't find him. They wanted to pay him or give thanks at least, and he was never to be found. They didn't even get his name. A lot of people believe it was an angel. This is something you need to see when you're in Santa Fe. And don't worry, like almost everything in the Plaza, you'll find a gift shop attached.
I am not going to sit here and write a long story about the "Miracle Stairs" at the Loretto Chapel. All I will say is that if you are in Santa Fe and do not take the time to go see this, you are an idiot. Return your passport, erase all your tips on VT, and just sit at home and watch tv for the rest of your life.
For a small fee, you can enter one of New Mexico's most mysterious chapels. You can find the chapel in the city center, and it is an easy walk from other nearby sites.
The most famous feature of the chapel is its staircase. At the front of the pews, you will see a spiral staircase climbing to the next level. What is so special about it? No one knows who built it, where the materials for the staircase came from, and how such a fine work of art could be made at the time. A mysterious stranger rode into town, built the staircase, and left without being paid for his work. Some believe that St. Joseph himself built this staircase. Whatever the case may be, the design was innovative for its time, not a single nail was used, and there is no apparent support for the whole structure, yet it stands. Rails were later added on to the staircase.
Known for the "Miraculous Staircase".
Our hours of operation are:
9am - 6pm - Monday through Saturday
10:30am - 5pm - Sunday
9am - 5pm - Monday through Saturday
10:30am - 5pm - Sunday
The Loretto Chapel is located in downtown Santa Fe,
Cynics will tell you that the legend of the Miraculous Staircase is a myth, and it may be, but the story is intriguing and the interior of the chapel is beautiful.
Before I continue what may turn out to be a rather long narrative, I do want to advise anyone with a mind which leans toward skepticism that the Loretto Chapel is no longer a church but is a "for profit" museum and wedding chapel. Caveat emptor.
In 1872, the Bishop of Santa Fe commissioned construction of a convent chapel for the Sisters of Loretto. The chapel was designed by a well-known French architect who died before the chapel was completed, perhaps even before the plans were completed. Nevertheless, no-one noticed until after the chapel was essentially complete that there was no means of accessing the choir loft 20 feet above the main floor. Ladders on a side wall were fairly common means of access but the Sisters of Loretto are thought to have regarded this as a very ill advised mode, especially considering the long habits which they wore.
The nuns prayed for St. Joseph's (Jesus Christ's human father) intercession for nine straight days. On the day after their novena ended a shabby looking stranger appeared at their door. He told the nuns he would build them a staircase but that he needed total privacy and locked himself in the chapel for three months. He used a small number of primitive tools including a square, a saw, and some warm water and constructed a spiral staircase entirely of non-native wood. The identity of the carpenter is not known for as soon as the staircase was finally finished he was gone. Many witnesses, upon seeing the staircase, feel it was constructed by St. Joseph himself, as a miraculous occurrence.
The resulting staircase is an impressive work of carpentry. It ascends 20 feet, making two complete revolutions up to the choir loft without the use of nails or apparent center support. It has been surmised that the central spiral of the staircase is narrow enough to serve as a central beam. Nonetheless there was no attachment to any wall or pole in the original stairway, although in 1887 -- 10 years after it was built -- a railing was added and the outer spiral was fastened to an adjacent pillar. Instead of metal nails, the staircase was constructed using dowels or wooden pegs.
The legend claims that the mystery has never been satisfactorily solved as to who the carpenter was or where he got his wood, and that there were no reports of anyone seeing materials delivered or even seeing the man come and go while the construction was underway. Since he left before the Mother Superior could pay him, the Sisters of Loretto offered a reward for the identity of the man, but it was never claimed.
An even more spiritualized version of the story goes something like:
What makes this chapel different from all others is that the subject of the supposed miracle that took place in it is a staircase.
When the chapel was ready, the nuns discovered that there was no staircase to take them to the choir loft.
Carpenters called in for advice said there was no way to build a staircase in such a small space. The nuns turned to prayer, spending nine days praying to St. Joseph, who, you may recall, was a carpenter, for a solution.
On the ninth day of the novena, a stranger knocked at their door and told them that he was a carpenter and could help them build the staircase.
He constructed the staircase, which was considered to be the pride of carpentry, all by himself.
No-one could understand how it stood as it made two 360 degree spirals and had no apparent central support.
Then the carpenter, who used no nails nor glue disappeared without using even waiting to be paid.
A rumor circulated around Santa Fe that the builder was St. Joseph himself, sent by Jesus to remedy the nuns' problem.
I know that some consider this a tourist trap, but I thought it was worth the few dollars they charge to go inside. It was built in 1878, in the Gothic-Revival style for the Sisters of the Loretto, who established a school in Santa Fe in 1853. It is known for it's Miraculous Staircase, which has two 360-degree turns and no apparent means of support. Today, it's no longer a chapel, but a museum and gift shop.
This church was built in 1870's in Gothic style; a different mode from the tradition of the area. This church has the mysterious stairwell that is suspended with no supports; a miracle of course for the 33 steps in 360 turn
The history of the Loretto Chapel is an interesting one. The Academy of Our Lady of Light (Loretto) opened in 1853. It was decided that the school needed a chapel. Property was purchased and in 1873 work began on the Loretto Chapel. Influenced by the French clergy in Santa Fe, the Gothic Revival-style chapel was patterned after King Louis IX's Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, i.e., very different from the adobe churches already in the area. It was completed in 1878 and has since seen many additions and renovations such as the introduction of the Stations of the Cross, the Gothic altar and the frescos during the 1890s. See also my tip on the Miraculous Staircase which is inside the Loretto Chapel.