The Chapel of Loretto in Santa Fe is home to an exceptional work of carpentry
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The staircase of Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico is shrouded in myth and legend. Some pious local traditions claim the identity of its builder and the physics of its structure are miraculous. The fact that the structure stands on its feet without any kind of central support attached to it has been considered, by many, as almost supernatural. Although
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 almost ready, a pious legend claims, the builders were faced with an unexpected problem: there was no way to climb from the nave to the choir, on the second floor. Legend claims 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. However, that this was a mistake is highly unlikely: surely the architect had already decided that a spiral-shaped staircase was going to connect the lower floor and the choir.
In any case, the pious legend claims that 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. Some versions even claim that they advised the nuns to demolish the choir.
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 one of the versions of the mid-nineteenth century legend, a man appeared at the door of the chapel, saying that he could build a stairway, under one condition: that he be granted total privacy.
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. According to some, it should have collapsed the very first moment someone used it, although it is clear 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.