Above Photo by Elisa Rolle
Construction of the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1882. Bishop Lamy who was French, commissioned a strictly Gothic design. The first Gothic structure west of the Mississippi is 25 feet by 75 and reaches a height of 85 feet. When the building was almost finished someone noticed that while the chapel was beautiful, as was the choir loft, there was no way to get from one to other.
The sisters summonded carpenter after carpenter who told them that a 21 foot staircase in such a small space could simply not be built. Why not tear down the choir loft and begin again, both a daunting and heartbreaking task The sisters began to pray to Saint Joseph
In answer a grey haired man with a donkey and tool chest came to the convent and asked if he might have a try at building what would be known as the Miraculous Staircase.
When the work was complete the man simply disappeared as suddenly as he appeared and couldn’t be found to accept any pay for the job. Nor was there any charges for lumber at the local lumber yard.
The Miraculous Staircase has 33 steps and makes two complete turns of 360°. The staircase, unlike every other spiral staircase in the world, has no center support and no one can really explain how the thing stands up and bears weight.
Wooden pegs, rather than nails, were used.
The sisters remember the old carpenter using only hammer, saw and T square. They also remember pieces of wood soaking in tubs of water
Nobody has actually pinned down exactly where the wood in the structure came from. The wood is not native to New Mexico.
Who actually built the Miraculous Staircase? Some people think it was St. Joseph himself.
Chapel may close without notice for special events. If you’re planning a visit, please call ahead to be sure the Chapel will be open. Visit their website for more information about visiting and booking special events.