The Mystery of Loretto Chapel

Tucked away at the end of the Santa Fe Trail in Santa Fe, New Mexico is the Loretto Chapel. Two mysteries surround it to this day.

The story begins when Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy was appointed to the new territory in 1850 and was ordered to spread the faith and set up an educational system. But he couldn’t do it alone and wrote letters begging his fellow priests, brothers, and nuns to come help.

Seven sisters agreed to come but only six made it. They arrived in 1852 and set up a school. It began with only a few pupils to approximately 300. Then they decided they needed a church. The sisters pooled the tuition, got donations, and even gave up their own inheritances to come up with the money.

So, builders came and set to work and the sisters and bishop ended up with a beautiful Gothic chapel—but the carpenters left no access to the loft which was twenty-two feet above. The men left without solving the problem. They were done so the rest was up to the bishop and the nuns.

To have a choir loft but no way to it couldn’t be allowed to remain. Men offered to build a regular staircase but it wouldn’t fit in the space.

The sisters of the chapel prayed to Saint Joseph who was the patron saint of carpenters. For eight days they prayed with no results. On the ninth day, a man appeared with his donkey and toolbox, asking for work.

They immediately hired him and the only stipulation he put on them was that he be allowed to work in private. For months, he diligently worked building a breathtaking circular staircase from the most beautiful wood. It was magnificent and beyond the sisters’ wildest dreams.

When they went to pay him, he’d disappeared. No one knew his name or where he came from. They’d never thought to ask. They looked high and low with no results.

The staircase design was innovative to say the least and some things about it perplex architects to this day.

The staircase has two 360 degree turns with no visible means of support. It’s totally built without nails, using only wooden pegs. No one knows how the carpenter got the precise number of stairs to come out even to the loft and each step is the same measurement. Plus, the staircase was not attached to any wall or pole. Also, a mystery is the wood used. The staircase is made of spruce which only grows above 8,000 feet above sea level. It would’ve been very difficult for a man and a donkey to get and the nearest would’ve been quite a distance.

The Loretta Chapel has been the subject of TV shows and movies and was featured on Unsolved Mysteries.  If you’re ever in the Santa Fe area, visit this beautiful church and see the staircase firsthand. It’s quite something.

What are you thoughts on who the carpenter might’ve been? To this day, folks refer to him as St. Joseph. I’m giving away a $10 Amazon gift card to another person this week.


The Mystery of Loretto Chapel — 13 Comments

  1. Wow, I learned something new this morning, I didn’t know about this church or story. That staircase sounds fantastic. Someday I would like to see it in person. Thank you, again for a wonderful blog, and history.
    As to your question, I would have no clue who it might have been.

    • Hi Veda….I’m glad you enjoyed my mystery staircase. I hope you do get to see it one day. It’s really amazing.

      Much love and hugs!

  2. What an amazingly beautiful staircase and church! Such history! You tell such wonderful stories, true or fictional. This one had me captivated as well. And I would have no clue as to who the carpenter would have been, but he truly was sent from heaven!

    • Hi Dale……I’m happy you enjoyed my blog. This church is amazing and that staircase is truly miraculous. I first learned of this by watching a movie many years ago. The actor who played the carpenter was William Petersen who played Grissom on the TV series CSI. I just loved it. I think the carpenter was sent by God. Or maybe it was His son. Jesus was a carpenter by trade.

      Much love and hugs!

  3. Linda- wow what an exciting blog. I’ll. EE’s to visit this chapel the next time I’m in Santa Fe. My only thought is the Dear Lord played a huge hand in this being built. He can come in all forms and shapes and lay his masterful touch on any and all things. What a breathtaking beauty. Love you Dearly and I hope you get to feeling better soon.

    • Hi Tonya……I believe that too. God can assume any shape He wants. It’s just too miraculous for a normal mortal to have built. I hope you get to see it one day. I am feeling much better. This has been a trying time for me. Thank you for your prayers.

      Much love, sister friend!

  4. I have visited this chapel and have to say this staircase is not only a mystery but magical. I truly believe the being that built it was from another dimension. It is the only explanation that makes any sense. Great post, sister.

    • Hi Sister….I’m glad you came to weigh in. This staircase really is something to see. The carpenter was definitely not from this world. Just too many impossible things for which there is no explanation.

      Love you, sister!

    • Hi Jerri…..I’m glad you came and happy you liked my post. Yes, I’m very relieved that I am on the mend. The swelling is slowly going down and I can almost see my knee again.

      Much love and hugs!

  5. Linda, That is one magnificent staircase! I had a friend many years ago (lost touch) who’s husband built a circular staircase with beautiful wood in their house but it was not nearly as ornate as this one! Also her husband had modern tools and methods. Then again, ancient civilizations have built pyramids, temples and monuments that perplex the modern world. Knowledge and methods were passed down to sons and daughters (mostly sewing and cooking) who worked along side their parents. Still other folks learned when they were apprentices, learning from masters and doing the “grunt work” for them. Those masters were once apprentices themselves. I imagine that this carpenter learned his trade through such an apprenticeship. Where he got the wood, and how he got it to the cathedral-well that’s something I can only speculate. Perhaps he stole it from a wagon that was bound to deliver it from its source high up in the mountains where it grew. If not stolen, perhaps found? Indians or robbers may have killed the drivers and they were not able to transport the wood or didn’t see its value like this man did. The mysterious carpenter may have heard from word of mouth that the wood was piled up somewhere and he convince a driver with a wagon to deliver it. (Folks went into town with goods to sell but journeyed home with supplies in their wagons that may not have taken up so much room.)
    It is an absolute marvel and, like the others commenters, I’d love to see this cathedral some day.
    I am very curious what happened to the seventh sister who didn’t make it to Santa Fe. Why didn’t she make it? Is that a mystery too?
    Thanks for your fun blog! 🙂 Hugs!

  6. Hi Meg….This has certainly provided a lot of speculation. We all like a mystery. I choose to believe the carpenter was a heavenly being. The great distance alone would’ve prevented this carpenter from having any ties to ancient civilizations. Then the unique wood. And why wouldn’t someone as poor as he have stayed to get paid? He evidently could’ve used the money. It’s just a huge mystery.

    Much love and hugs!