Loretto Chapel Staircase

I’ve found one reason to go to New Mexico, the Loretto Chapel Staircase.

The architect of the Chapel, Antoine Mouly, died suddenly and it was only after much of the chapel was constructed that the builders realized it was lacking any type of stairway to the choir loft.

Needing a way to get up to the choir loft the nuns prayed for St. Joseph’s intercession for nine straight days. On the day after their novena ended a shabby looking stranger appeared at their door. He told the nuns he would build them a staircase but that he needed total privacy and locked himself in the chapel for three months.

The resulting staircase is an impressive work of carpentry. It ascends twenty feet, making two complete revolutions up to the choir loft without the use of nails or apparent center support. However, the central spiral of the staircase is narrow enough to serve as a central beam. Nonetheless there was no attachment unto any wall or pole in the original stairway; it was only later, when a railing was added, that the outer spiral got fastened to an adjacent pillar.

A local historian published evidence to suggest the craftsman was the French-born Francois-Jean Rochas, who came to the United States as a member of a celibate order of artisans and settled in New Mexico. The findings suggest the staircase was built in France and fitted by Rochas. That would explain why it appeared so suddenly, and why it might have given rise to the legend of the miraculous saint.

Picture of the staircase before the railing was added. Fascinating!

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