Claim: The spiral stairway at Santa Fe's Loretto Chapel miraculously stands despite having no discernable means of support.
Example: [Collected on the Internet, April 1997]
What makes this chapel different from all others is that the subject of the supposed miracle that took place in it is a staircase.
A chapel was constructed somewhere in the
They spent 9 days praying to St. Joseph, who was a carpenter.
On the last day, a stranger knocked at their door and said that he was a carpenter who could help them build the staircase.
He constructed the staircase, all by himself, which was considered to be the pride of carpentery.
None knew how the staircase could stand by itself as it did not have a central support.
Then the carpenter, who did not use a single nail or glue to construct this staircase, disappeared without even waiting for his payment.
There was a rumour in the city of Santa Fé that the carpenter was
There are three mysteries about this staircase, says the spokesman of the chapel. The first mystery is that, to this day, the identity of the builder is not known.
The second mystery is that the architects, engineers and scientists say that they cannot understand how this staircase can balance without any central support.
The third mystery is from where did the wood come? They have checked and found out that the type of wood used to build the staircase does not exist in the entire region.
There is another detail that has just increased the belief in the supposed miracle: The staircase has
Origins: Fans of made-for-TV movies might recall
The Loretto Academy was a school for women founded in Santa Fe in 1852 by the local Sisters of Loretto. In 1873 construction was begun to add a chapel to the site, a project plagued by some unfortunate incidents (including the shooting death of the main architect). As the builders were finishing up work on the chapel, they found that the plans drawn up by the late architect had not included any means of access to the chapel's choir loft. This was when, according to Alice Bullock's book, Loretto and the Miraculous Staircase, the now-legendary events kicked in.
The notion of constructing an ordinary staircase up to the choir loft was apparently rejected both because it would have limited the available seating in the loft and because it would have been aesthetically unappealing. As Bullock described the nuns' dilemma over how to proceed: "Carpenters and builders were called in, only to shake their heads in despair. When all else had failed, the Sisters determined to pray a novena to the Master Carpenter himself,
As Bullock's narrative continues, the nuns' prayers were answered on the ninth day by a humble workman leading a burro loaded with a complement of carpentry tools. The workman proclaimed that, with permission, he could resolve the dilemma, needing only a couple of water tubs to complete the task:
The Sisters were overjoyed and planned a fine dinner to honor the Carpenter. Only he could not be found. No one seemed to know him, where he lived, nothing. Lumberyards were checked, but they had no bill for the Sisters of Loretto. They had not sold him the wood. Knowledgeable men went in and inspected the stair and none knew what kind of wood had been used, certainly nothing indigenous to this area. Advertisements for the Carpenter were run in the New Mexican and brought no response.
"Surely," said the devout, "it was St. Joseph himself who built the stair"
For starters, the Loretto staircase was apparently not all that fine a piece of work from a safety standpoint. It was originally built without a railing, presenting a steep
Although the Loretto legend maintains that "engineers and scientists say that they cannot understand how this staircase can balance without any central support" and that by all rights it should have long since collapsed into a pile of rubble, none of that is the case. Wood technologist
As for the wood used in the stairway's construction, it has been identified as spruce, but not a large enough sample has been made available for wood analysts to determine which of the ten spruce species found in North America (and thus precisely where) it came from. That the structure may have built without the use of glue or nails is hardly remarkable: nails were often an unavailable or precious commodity to builders of earlier eras, who developed a number of techniques for fastening wood without them.
All in all, nothing about Loretto's design or manufacture evidences any sign of the miraculous. The staircase (and the chapel that houses it) is, however, now part of a privately-owned museum operated for profit, a situation that provides its owners with a strong financial motive for perpetuating the legend of its mysterious origins and substance.
Last updated: 2 March 2014
Bullock, Alice. Loretto and the Miraculous Staircase. Santa Fe, NM: Sunstone Press, 2001. ISBN 0-913-27080-6. Nickell, Joe. "Helix to Heaven." The Skeptical Inquirer. November 1998.