Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Tuesday 13 April |
Saint of the Day: Pope St. Martin I
home iconTravel
line break icon

The day St. Joseph built a staircase in New Mexico

Daniel Esparza - published on 07/23/18

The Chapel of Loretto in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is home to an exceptional work of carpentry

The staircase of Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico is well known for being surrounded by at least two mysteries: the identity of its builder and the physics of its structure. No one is able to fully understand how the structure can stand on its feet without any kind of central support attached to it. There is, maybe, a third mystery, too: although the staircase is known to be made of spruce wood, no one has been able to determine either what subspecies of spruce it is, or even how the wood got to the chapel.

In 1852, by order of the bishop of Santa Fe, Jean Baptiste Lamy, the Chapel of Our Lady of Light (inspired by the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris) was built. It was placed under the care of the Sisters of Loretto, who were to arrive from Kentucky to found a school for girls.

When the chapel was ready, builders were faced with an unexpected problem: there was no way to climb from the nave to the choir, on the second floor. It was a sad error in the design — one that the building’s architect, Antonio Mouly, could not solve, since he had already passed away. When the nuns insisted on building a staircase, the builders told them it would be impossible, and that building a normal, regular ladder would take too much room. Finally, they advised the nuns to demolish the choir.

saint Joseph

Read more:
St. Joseph: His life, his miracles and his legacy

Instead, the nuns decided to pray a novena to St. Joseph, patron saint of carpenters, asking for a solution.

After finishing the novena, according to testimonies that have passed from generation to generation since the mid-nineteenth century, a man appeared at the door of the chapel, saying that he could build a stairway, under one condition: he be granted total privacy.

The staircase, which is around six meters high, takes two full turns over its axis until it reaches the choir. It was built without any nails or glue, and lacks any kind of central support. The construction itself is said to be impossible.

The stranger locked himself in the chapel for three months with a saw, a square and a few other simple tools, and disappeared as soon as the work was finished, without ever having asked for any payment for his services.

The staircase, which is around six meters high, takes two full turns over its axis until it reaches the choir. It was built without any nails or glue, and lacks any kind of central support. The construction itself is said to be “impossible.” According to some, it should have collapsed the very first moment someone used it, although it is assumed that the central spiral staircase is narrow enough to work as a central support on its own.

In any case, the original staircase was not attached to any wall until 1887, ten years later, when the railing was added, and the outer spiral was attached to a nearby pillar.

Tradition claims the mystery of the identity of the carpenter has never been satisfactorily solved, and there is not even a delivery report that might help decipher where the wood came from. During those three months, no one saw anyone entering or leaving the chapel.

As the carpenter left before the Mother Superior could pay him, the Sisters of Loretto offered a reward to anyone who could his make identity known, but no one ever showed up. So, yes: since then, the crafting of the staircase has been attributed to St. Joseph himself!

ArchitectureCatholic historySaints
Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Cerith Gardiner
11 Interesting facts about the late Prince Philip
Fr Robert McTeigue, SJ
A simple test to see if you really believe Christ is risen
Archbishop Georg Gänswein
I.Media for Aleteia
Gänswein: Benedict XVI expected to live only a few months after r...
Fr. Patrick Briscoe, OP
St. Faustina’s coffee cup and lessons for Divine Mercy Sund...
Here’s how to celebrate Divine Mercy Sunday at home
Philip Kosloski
Why you can eat meat on Easter Friday
Sister Bhagya
Saji Thomas-ACN
Catholic nun faces conversion charges in central India
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.