Loretto Chapel and the Miraculous Stairway


The chapel, the myth, the legend of Loretto Chapel.

As seen on Unsolved Mysteries.

It’s a legend of a carpenter that shows ups and builds a stair case with no nails and no supports that goes from the floor of the chapel to the choir loft or balcony. This little model is in the entrance off the side of the main chapel doors.


The stairs still stand today. Originally there was no hand rail or tie-ins to the surrounding structure. Safety concerns triumphed over the legend. Now no one is allowed to climb them despite the rails and the tie-ins to the stone work.


It is still a beautiful and incomprehensibly wonderful work of carpentry.

The boards were warped by steam into the shape that you see. Single pieces were used where it would have been easy, if less beautiful, to use more than one or even multiple cuts of one piece of wood.

The disappearance of the carpenter after the work was done is yet another mystery.

The chapel is beautiful in it’s own right. Unlike the Cathedral Basilica, it is named simply and it is consistently european in design. It does not try to merge the southwest and the european, instead it simply is what it is. While I ended up enjoying the time spent in both cathedrals, I like the simplicity of being internally consistent.


Later in the spring I imagine the blooms and the buds would be spectacular. We lucked out to get a clean shot of the chapel in the winter where you can see through the branches. The denuded trees were quite ready for the end of lent and the advent of spring, the coming of the Easter season.


Inside the altar rails and the altar table feel far more european, but there is still a simplicity of design – even if ornate, that make it feel like a holy place, a place of worship. The stained glass windows let in light through geometrical patterns. Instead of icons, these patterns invited a different type of contemplation, a different focus.

Icons may invite one to focus on the story, these encouraged a focus on the light and the space you occupied. It is almost a visual version of a labyrinth for the fingers or a walking path.

My impression of Loretto Chapel? It felt like a place of worship. The stairway is an incredible work that I would love to have seen being built, I would love to test it to see if it still holds weight. To see it being built would be sublime, to hear choirs of nuns who contemplated God on the steps of the spiral on their way to sing is a wish for times gone by.

Maybe next time I head to Santa Fe, I’ll get to spend some time just sitting and praying in the chapel.


About Sean Smith

Husband, Father, Pastor, Swimmer, Writer, Reader, and attempted Adventurer!
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