The Loretto Chapel
and The Miraculous Staircase
The Loretto Chapel in Sante Fe, New Mexico was commissioned by Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy
and designed by French architect Antoine Mouly with the help of his son, Projectus,
Since the elder Mouly was infirm and going blind at this time,
actual construction of the chapel fell to Mouly’s son Projectus, who did a fine construction job until he himself died.
It is here that the so-called “legend of the miraculous staircase” begins.
When Projectus died, the chapel construction went on until it was discovered that no way had been included in the building plans to access the choir loft.
There was no space for a staircase in the small church.
Legend says that to find a solution to the problem, the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.
A novena is a prayer repeated on nine successive days, asking to obtain special graces.
On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work.
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 Miraculous Staircase ascends twenty 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—
and the physics of this are most likely true but this was an incredibly difficult construction method for the times.
There was no attachment unto 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.
Then, on the day the mysterious carpenter finished, before he could be paid, he walked into the dessert and was never heard from again.
His identity unknown.
The legend grew that the builder was St. Joseph, the carpenter father of Jesus.
The staircase has 33 steps, the age in years of Jesus when he was crucified.
The miraculous staircase still stands today and the Loretto Chapel is visited by tourists and used for weddings and other special events to this day.
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