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Photos from our Santa Fe Trip
When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, there was no access to the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem , but all concluded that the only access could be through a ladder as a staircase would interfere with the interior of the small chapel.
Legend has it that the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared at the Chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later, the elegant, circular, free-standing staircase was completed, and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. The Sisters searched for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, some concluded he was St. Joseph himself who had come to answer the prayer.
The design of the staircase was innovative for the time and some of the design considerations still perplex experts today. (The banister was added years later because the Sisters were too afraid to climb the stairs with nothing to hold onto. There have also been supports added to stabilize the staircase due to all the vibrations from the traffic of visitors to the chapel.)
The staircase has two 360-degree turns and no visible means of support, built with no nails - only wooden pegs. Questions also surround the number of stair risers relative to the height of the choir loft and about the types of wood and other materials used in the construction.
The staircase has been the subject of many articles, TV specials, and movies including