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See The Miracle Staircase At Loretto Chapel

Updated on July 7, 2015
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ReadMikeNow is a freelance writer who loves to travel. He likes to find unique stories about interesting places.

Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico

There is a museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico called the Loretto Chapel. At one time, it was a convent chapel run by the Sisters of Loretto. It has a mystery. When the chapel was being built in 1872, there was no way to access the choir loft. The sisters were told a staircase couldn't be built because the chapel was so small. A staircase was built under mysterious circumstances. They consider it a miracle.

Chapel Creation

In 1850, the Church for the New Mexico Territory made Jean Baptisite Lamy a Bishop. His desire was to create an educational system in the territory and reach out to the faithful. Lamy wrote a number of letters to Catholic leaders around the country asking for teachers to come to the territory. The first to answer his request were the Sisters of Loretto. They were in Kentucky. The sisters made the journey to New Mexico on covered wagons in bad weather and through dangerous Indian country.

Chapel History

The Santa Fe Archdiocese commissioned building a convent chapel in the Santa Fe area in 1872. It would be called Our Lady of Light Chapel. The purpose of the chapel would be to care for the Sisters of Loretto. The Chapel would be designed in a style known as Gothic Revival. A French architect named Antoine Mouly was paid to design it. Unfortunately, Mouly suddenly passed away after a good portion of the chapel had been built. It was then builders realized there was no way to access the choir loft. The carpenters said it could be reached using a ladder. The Sisters of Loretto didn't like this idea. The habits they wore were large and bulky. They asked about building a staircase to the choir loft. The carpenters told them because the chapel was so small, a regular staircase would be too large. The Sisters of Loretto began to pray. They made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.

Prayers Answered

After nine days, a man appeared at the Loretto Chapel. He had a donkey, a toolbox and was looking for work. The man explained to the nuns he would build them a staircase as they requested. He told them he had to have absolute privacy as he worked. For several months, the man was locked in the chapel as he constructed the staircase. His tools were simple. He used a square, saw, and some warm water. The carpenter left right after the work was completed. The Sisters of Loretto searched for the man in order to pay him for building the staircase. They even put an ad in a local newspaper to try and locate him. He was never found. Some believe it was actually St. Joseph who came to the chapel and built the staircase.

Loretto Chapel Staircase
Loretto Chapel Staircase

The Staircase

The staircase located at Loretto Chapel is considered a very impressive structure. The entire spiral staircase was constructed of non-native wood. The design is extremely innovative considering the time period in which it was built. The staircase design considerations still baffle experts today. It stands 20 feet high, with no center support and makes two 360 degree turns. It was not attached to any wall or pole until ten years after its construction. This was only done to comply with building codes. A railing was added and fastened to a nearby pillar. The staircase has 33 steps. This is the age of Jesus Christ when he was crucified. Each of the risers for the steps is the exact same height.

Alter at the Loretto Chapel
Alter at the Loretto Chapel


There have been many theories over the years about the identity of the carpenter who built the staircase. It has never been conclusively proven. The wood used for construction of the stairway is a type that is extinct and has been for centuries. Where the wood was obtained remains a mystery. There were many people who would walk around the Chapel day and night during its construction, but nobody ever reported seeing lumber being delivered. The entire time the staircase was being built, nobody saw the carpenter come or go from the chapel. The staircase was constructed with wooden pegs, no nails or glue was used. The lack of a center support is an amazing architectural feat considering the time period and tools used for construction.

Staircase at Loretto Chapel
Staircase at Loretto Chapel

Academy of Our Lady of Light

In 1852, the sisters came to the Santa Fe, New Mexico area. In 1853, they began the Academy of Our Lady of Light. This school started with very few students but grew to become an educational institution of approximately 300 students. The area was a challenge for everyone who lived there. Smallpox as well as tuberculosis infected many people. Leaky mud roofs were common. The school campus eventually included an entire square block with ten buildings. The school and chapel were financed from inheritances the sisters had received from their families. They were able to raise the required $30,000 necessary to build the chapel. The Loretto Chapel was used by the sisters and students of Loretto Academy daily. The academy closed in 1968, and the property was then offered for sale. When it was sold in 1971, the Chapel was informally deconsecrated as a Catholic Chapel.

Statue in Loretto Chapel
Statue in Loretto Chapel

Popular Culture

The staircase at Loretto Chapel has been featured in television shows, books, songs, and movies. It was featured in an episode of “Unsolved Mysteries called the “Miracle Staircase.” There was a television movie called “The Staircase” made about it in 1998. The movie featured William Petersen and Barbara Hershey. Author Ann Rinaldi wrote a book called “The Staircase,” which was based on the history of the Loretto Chapel. Kate Vargas is a singer-songwriter who recorded a song in 2014 called “Sisters of Loretto.”

Entrance to Loretto Chapel
Entrance to Loretto Chapel

The Loretto Chapel Today

The chapel is currently owned by a private company. Its primary use is as a museum. The chapel is a place where weddings may take place. Many couples find it special to have their wedding party photographed on the staircase. The Church of Antioch at Santa Fe does offer Holy Eucharist every Sunday at the Loretto Chapel at 8:45 am. Hours of operation for the Loretto Chapel are Monday through Saturday 9 am to 4:30 pm. It is open on Sunday from 10:30 am to 4:30 pm. The chapel may close with no notice for special events. If anyone is interested in getting information about having a wedding at the chapel, they can call (505) 982-0092 or Email

Loretto Chapel Website

207 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, NM 87501


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    • Readmikenow profile image

      Readmikenow 2 years ago

      When you go there, they have pictures of many people standing on the staircase. It was used pretty regularly for decades.

    • peachpurple profile image

      peachy 2 years ago from Home Sweet Home

      did anybody step on the staircase? I doubt since it is mentioned no glue or nails used