A small chapel located in the heart of Santa Fe, New Mexico brings visitors from across the globe to learn about its mysterious and interesting history and specifically its staircase. Several mysteries surround the staircase in the Loretto Chapel including the identity of its builder, the type of wood used and the physics of its construction.
In 1873, seven nuns set forth to build a girl’s school and a chapel. The school grew to about 300 students, and the sisters raised $30,000 to build the chapel that was completed in 1878.
The choir loft in the chapel was built 22 feet above the main floor. When the Loretto Chapel was completed, the only way to access the choir loft was by ladder. Many builders were consulted to address the problem, but they all concluded that a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small chapel.
As legend has it, the Sisters of the chapel prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters for nine days straight about a solution. On the last day of prayer, a man appeared at the chapel with a toolbox looking for work. The nuns told the stranger about their plight. He worked in seclusion, and months later the elegant circular staircase was completed, and the carpenter disappeared without pay. The nuns searched for the man and even ran an ad in the local newspaper. After finding no trace of him, some speculated that the man could have been St. Joseph himself. The mysterious staircase’s carpenter built a magnificent structure. The staircase was innovative for the time, and the design still baffles architects, engineers and master craftsmen.
The miraculous staircase was built with two 360 degree turns, no visible supporting structure and built without nails—only using wooden pegs. The exact wood used to construct the staircase is unknown, though it has been confirmed to be a type of spruce, probably not native to New Mexico.
Loretto Chapel was used on a daily basis by the students and nuns until the school closed in 1968. Afterward, it became a privately-owned museum and wedding venue.
The staircase has been the subject of many articles, television specials and movies including Unsolved Mysteries and the full-length film titled, The Staircase, starring William Petersen and Barbara Hershey.
For more information, visit www.lorettochapel.com.