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Santa Fe, New Mexico: The Number Of Steps On The Loretto Chapel Spiral Staircase Could Be A Clue To Its Creator

Updated on June 3, 2015
The double helix design of the staircase at The Loretto Chapel resembles a DNA strand. The bannisters were added 10 years after its construction.
The double helix design of the staircase at The Loretto Chapel resembles a DNA strand. The bannisters were added 10 years after its construction. | Source
The exterior of the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Entrance to the chapel is along the side in the lower right of the photo. The building in the background on the left is the sprawling and historic La Fonda Hotel
The exterior of the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Entrance to the chapel is along the side in the lower right of the photo. The building in the background on the left is the sprawling and historic La Fonda Hotel | Source

The Mystery Of The Loretto Chapel's Spiraling Staircase

"What they found was a spiral staircase without a center support or a bannister - seemingly floating towards the heavens... but when the nuns went to pay him, he had disappeared."

This is how a 19th-Century story told in Santa Fe since 1877 ends.

It's the story that continues to be told; spread by both believers and non-believers who have personally seen, touched and marveled at the "miraculous staircase" that has the required mystical elements to make it legend.

You'll find it rising majestically in the Loretto Chapel a few steps from The Plaza in downtown Santa Fe (which translates to Holy Faith) and behind the historic La Fonda Hotel.

You can't miss it, it's in the Gothic-style with spires and flourishes, influenced by the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.

Inside is the double helix wooden staircase that was constructed by a shabby, bearded, stranger using only:

  • A builder's square
  • A saw
  • Warm water
  • Non-native wood

Nails and a center support were not used in the construction of the 20-foot high staircase that makes two complete, 360-degree revolutions.

But what WAS used was a biblically-significant tell-tale number of steps ascending to the choir loft.

More on this later.





Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy commissioned the construction of the Loretto Chapel in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy commissioned the construction of the Loretto Chapel in downtown Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Loretto Chapel In 1909

The Loretto Chapel in 1909. The building to the right no longer stands. The building to the left is also gone - that site is now used by artisans to sell original arts and crafts.
The Loretto Chapel in 1909. The building to the right no longer stands. The building to the left is also gone - that site is now used by artisans to sell original arts and crafts. | Source

The Long History And Glorious Mystery Of The Loretto Chapel

In 1872, Bishop Jean Baptiste Lamy of Santa Fe, commissioned the construction of a convent chapel to be called Our Lady Of the Light Chapel for the Sisters of the Loretto. The sisters raised $30,000 for the construction of the chapel.

Stained glass windows were designed and fabricated at the Dubois Studios in Paris and transported by boat, train then wagon to Santa Fe.

As the chapel neared completion, its architect and builder was fatally shot, The chapel was completed but it lacked one thing - a staircase to reach the choir loft.

The Sisters prayed to St. Joseph for intercession or guidance - traditionally called a novena. On the 9th day, a shabby, white bearded stranger and his donkey appeared at the chapel door, offering to construct the staircase, with one condition - he was to be left alone while he worked.

The bearded carpenter would stop working when the sisters entered the chapel for daily prayer. Apart from those occasions, the carpenter worked behind closed doors for nearly three months using only a builder's square, a saw, warm water and non-native wood. Later, no one could remember any wood having been delivered to the chapel for the bearded carpenter to use.

As you read earlier, the staircase rose 20 feet, made two complete revolutions without the use of nails or a center support. In fact, it was built without bannisters, so the nuns had to carefully climb it - some in a supplicant manner on their hands and knees. All the nuns of the Loretto Order had left to do was express their appreciation to the carpenter.

"...but when the nuns went to pay him, he had disappeared."


A look down into the spiral of the Loretto Chapel miraculous staircase. The handrail was added 10 years after the stairs were built
A look down into the spiral of the Loretto Chapel miraculous staircase. The handrail was added 10 years after the stairs were built | Source

Is It The DNA Of God?

Once you have been awed by the heavenly creation, you will notice that the design seems familiar.

You will notice that the two complete revolutions of the staircase resembles the double helix of a DNA strand. The two revolutions are each precisely 360 degrees.

DNA is the basic building block of all living organisms - a molecule that encodes the genetic information of all living things.

The biblical significance of the staircase is that the number of steps leading heavenward could be a sign of the Divine. There are 33 steps - the age of Jesus Christ when he ascended.

Also, 33 is the number of recorded miracles performed by Jesus Christ. Additionally, 33 is the numerical equivalent of "Amen." A=1, M=13, E=5, N=14.

Detailed Close Up Of The Exterior of The Loretto Chapel
Detailed Close Up Of The Exterior of The Loretto Chapel | Source

Miracle Stumps Physics And Defies Engineers' Principles

,Its initial construction defied engineers' practices of its day, and defied physics. Since then, the mystery of the miraculous staircase continues to confound visitors to the Loretto Chapel who see, touch and photograph the staircase that shouldn't be standing.

There have been theories and speculation regarding "the science" of how a 19th century drifter could have built it with just wood and warm water.

Believers believe, as do the Sisters of the Loretto, believe that St.Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, is responsible for the construction of the staircase. The Non-believers continue to offer scientific explanations, but none has offered a proven explanation that would trump the belief in the miracle.

Historians and other researchers seeking to debunk the miracle have claimed to have discovered records that name the carpenter, however, there has not been - to date - records to firmly credit an individual with the construction of the staircase.

Poster For The Made For 1998 TV Movie of "The Staircase". Notice that the shabby carpenter has been replaced by a good looking stranger.
Poster For The Made For 1998 TV Movie of "The Staircase". Notice that the shabby carpenter has been replaced by a good looking stranger.

The Loretto Chapel Story And Its Mystery Shared With The World

The miracle of the staircase has been featured on the "Ripley's Believe or Not" television program as well as "Unsolved Mysteries".

A made-for-TV-move called "The Staircase" starring Barbara Hershey and William Petersen was broadcast in 1998. The shabby carpenter became a lone wolf attractive stranger.

Petersen is known for his role of Dr. Gil Grissom on "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."

The Loretto Chapel gift shop has the 1998 TV movie available for sale on DVD.

DVD - Watch The Story Of The Spiraling Staircase

Santa Fe is located about 1 hour north of Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Santa Fe is located about 1 hour north of Albuquerque, New Mexico. | Source
The green arrow shows the location of the Loretto Chapel, not far from The Plaza (the green square in the center), in downtown Santa Fe.
The green arrow shows the location of the Loretto Chapel, not far from The Plaza (the green square in the center), in downtown Santa Fe. | Source

Read The Official Loretto Chapel Story

How To Visit Historic Santa Fe, The Loretto Chapel And The Miraculous Staircase

When you visit the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, you will be in a city that pre-dates the arrival of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock.

Santa Fe was founded in 1607 as La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis or The Royal Town of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assis.

In 1610, Santa Fe was named the capitol of the province making the city the oldest capitol city in the United States.

Prior to the arrival of the Spaniards, the Pueblo Indians had settlements as early as 900 in what is now The Plaza in downtown Santa Fe. The settlement was known as Ogapoge and spread to the west and south.

Santa Fe is located 61 miles north of Albuquerque on Interstate 25 North and is considered the culture and art hub of New Mexico.

Numerous of art galleries are in downtown Santa Fe as well as the Canyon Road neighborhood west of the Plaza which is a quaint neighborhood of eclectic restaurants and galleries.

Though the oldest mission and the oldest home in the United States, as well as the St. Francis of Assis Cathedral is located within blocks of the Loretto Chapel, it is the chapel that has the most mystique.

The Loretto Chapel is located a few blocks from The Plaza in downtown Santa Fe at 207 Old Santa Fe Trail. The chapel is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday.

Even though bannisters were added in the 1880s and a center support installed later for safety, the public is not allowed to climb the spiraling staircase.

Since it is no longer a Roman Catholic sanctuary but owned by a private firm, there is a nominal admission fee that goes towards the maintenance and staff that service the gift store.

To confirm current operating hours or admission, call (505) 982-0092.




The statue at the top of the Lorette Chapel.
The statue at the top of the Lorette Chapel.

Important Dates In The History Of The Loretto Chapel

 
 
1872
Chapel Commissioned
1873
Construction Starts
1878
Construction Completed
1877
Spiral Staircase Built
1887
Bannister And Supports Added
1968
Chapel Up For Sale
1971
Chapel Deconsecrated

Loretto Chapel Poll

Does The Evidence Prove To You That This Is A Miracle?

See results

The 3 Riddles Of The Miraculous Staircase

1) Who was the shabby man who constructed the spiraling staircase?

2) How did he build it using just a square, saw, warm water, wood but no nails or a center support?

3) Why did he disappear before he received payment or gratitude?

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    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 2 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Thanks for adding this traveler's treasure to many Bucket Lists. Santa Fe is a treasure on its own, or that's how I remember it 20 years after my last visit. Spent a wonderous summer in that area in 1974. I'd forgotten about the chapel and its staircase. Thanks for the memories.

    • profile image

      Fire8storm 2 years ago

      VJG, this is a great Hub! I was not aware of the Loretto Chapel and the mystery of this beautifully crafted staircase before. Really enjoyed learning about this. Voted up and shared.

    • DWDavisRSL profile image

      DW Davis 2 years ago from Eastern NC

      I had heard bits and pieces of this story over the years. Thanks for an informative hub.