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.