The Miraculous Staircase of Loretto Chapel

Entrance to the Chapel

Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe New Mexico is worth seeing just for its beautiful gothic architecture designed to mimic the Sainte Chapelle in Paris France.

The Chapel kind sticks out like a sore thumb, albeit a beautiful sore thumb, amongst all of the Adobe pueblo style architecture. It is a beautiful building, but that’s not why people flock there. People go there in droves because of the story regarding the staircase. 

Exterior of the Loretto Chapel
Exterior of the Loretto Chapel

A Nun's Final Wish

St Joseph with Jesus

Catholic nuns had this Chapel built in 1873 but the architect forgot to include a set of stairs for the choir to get up to the choir loft. It was a huge oversight. Unfortunately, the architect had passed away prior to anyone realizing this error.

The head Nun who was dying of cholera wanted, as a final wish, to have the staircase finished in the chapel.

She prayed and prayed.

Space was a concern. The staircase could not take up too much space. A few of the proposals for the staircase were rejected because they were too big.

There were several attempts to start something with the construction on the stairs but each attempt ended in failure. 

The head Nun started praying to St Joseph (Jesus’s dad) who was a carpenter asking for assistance.


An answer to a Nun's Final Wish

Angel Statue
Angel Statue holding the holy water in the Loretto Chapel

Shortly there after, a man just showed up with a burrow.

He asked the nuns if they needed help with anything. They asked him if he could build the staircase. He took on the challenge.

The carpenter was a bit of a mystery.

He locked himself up in the chapel to build the staircase. He interacted very little with anyone. He would respectfully vacate the chapel when the nuns needed to use it.

It took months to build. When he was done, he created a beautiful spiral staircase. 

The wood and finish of the underside of the staircase reminded me of beautiful string instruments. 

Miraculous Staircase

The Man, the Myth, the Legend

The nuns were soooo happy. 

On the day he was finished and ready to leave, the nuns planned a large party for him but he never showed up. He just left without payment for his beautiful work.
The nuns didn’t know what to make of this. No one knew who he was or where he was from. It was all a big mystery.

More perplexing was that the wood used to make the staircase was not indigenous to the area. 

Local lore states that the nuns never saw deliveries of wood to the Chapel but would routinely see the wood soaking in water.  

Could the carpenter have been this guy? 

St Joseph with Jesus in the Loretto Chapel
St Joseph with Jesus in Loretto Chapel

Sent by this guy. 

Jesus and the Sacred Heart at the Loretto Chapel
Jesus and the Sacred Heart at the Loretto Chapel

Wait there's more!

The architects at the time were astounded by the staircase because it had no center support that went all the way up through the spiral. They were surprised it didn’t collapse on itself.


But wait there's more!!

The carpenter used old methods of building the staircase without the use of nails but crafting and using dowels.

The fun doesn't stop here.

One of the fun facts about the staircase is that the original staircase did not have railings. The railings you see in the picture was added later on and it was definitely a necessity.

 The nuns were ok to go up the staircase but when coming down the 20 feet or so without anything to hold on to, some of the nuns had to come down the stairs schooching down on their butts. I’m sure it was not a dignified look.

Just for Haha’s I checked in with Snopes.com and even those guys couldn’t completely discredit these claims although they said that newer architects said that this would stand ok (obviously) but it does have a small center support on the bottom or first spiral. There is not one that goes throughout the entire staircase though. 

The Miraculous Staircase at Loretto Chapel
The Miraculous Staircase at Loretto Chapel

Miracles Happen

I was kind of surprised to learn that this was a real story. Years ago I watched a movie titled ‘The Staircase’ and I remember liking it alot, it starred Cheryl Ladd and Barbara Hershey. I thought it was a fictional story. I had no idea that it was based on a real place and story. 

I for one would like to think that miracles happen every single day. 

I just love this story.

Things to know when visiting the Loretto Chapel

The Chapel is located at

207 Old Santa Fe Trail

Santa Fe, NM 87501

The website to the Loretto Chapel is https://www.lorettochapel.com/

The church is no longer used for Catholic masses but is used for weddings.

The Chapel is opened year round. 

The hours are from Monday – Sunday 9:00am – 5:00pm

The cost for entry is $5.00

The chapel is small. 30 minutes will probably be the maximum time you’d need to reflect,  take pictures, light a candle and pray. The wait in the line to get into the chapel will probably take longer.

Also the staircase is cordoned off so you can not walk up it nor touch it. Of which, I was a little disappointed about. I really just wanted to touch it and glide my hand on the underside of the stairs. It’s cool to think that maybe St Joseph came and built this with his own hands.   

The grounds also hold an artist collective with beautiful handmade crafts that you can buy, so you can meander and shop to your hearts content. 


Lessons from the Road USA

Lessons from the Road, USA shares the travel adventures of a funny, single, 50-something year-old woman, traveling across the U.S. in a pickup truck. Webster is navigationally challenged and yet strangely addicted to camping sites and critters. She visits monuments of historical or personal significance and meets some fascinating people along the way!

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Lessons from the Road RV

Join Margaret as she shifts from her tent to a new RV. This book is a must-read for anyone who owns, or is thinking of owning an RV to travel full-time.

Podcasts Featuring Margaret

Get Focused Episode 80

Episode 80: Meet Margaret Webster, author of “Lessons from the Road: USA”

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