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Are the Loretto Chapel stairs really so miraculous?

Posted by Amber Burkhart at

For those who are interested in architecture, a staircase can really make the entire look of a building. These are a wonderful opportunity for designers to really show their abilities to work with the right stair parts and make a truly incredible structure. A dedicated fan of steps might even see a good set of them and call it miraculous, though under normal circumstances, this wouldn't be a serious assessment.

However, when Catholics from New Mexico refer to a miraculous staircase, it's likely that they're not doing so in jest, but rather referring to the so-called miraculous staircase, which is located within Santa Fe's Loretto Chapel. This is a beautiful old church, which was completed in 1878. Though the story of how this chapel got its elegant spiral staircase is disputed, legend has it that the steps were the work of a miracle. The story is fairly well known, and we even covered it on this blog back in December, detailing the mysterious construction of a spiral staircase that parishioners believe to be a miracle.

Unsure of what to do when their newly constructed church was left without a means for accessing the choir loft, the directors called in a few carpenters, who suggested that choir members climb a ladder in order to get to the space. This solution was not quite what everyone was hoping for,  so the chapel's nuns prayed a novena on it to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. 

On the ninth day of prayer, a man showed up at the door of the chapel, looking for work. The sisters felt that their prayers had been answered, and he spent months developing a handsome stairway that wound toward the choir loft in a helix shape, both saving space for the congregation and solving the aesthetic problem that would have been caused by a ladder. 

With two 360 degree turns and no visible supports, the staircase appears to hold itself up miraculously, though experts insist that the construction is physically possible and was simply advanced for the time. Even more impressively, it's said that the entire structure was constructed without nails, making use only of wooden pegs to hold all of the pieces together.

Stories say that by the time the sisters of the chapel had finished admiring it, the carpenter was gone, having left without asking for payment. The story is certainly a nice one, and has been featured in television programs and even in a movie called "The Staircase." 

However, Snopes, a website that's devoted to finding the truth behind urban legends, suggests that not all of it was true. Though it was built by an unknown carpenter, it was initially constructed without a balustrade. The wonderful hand rail and spindles on the steps were added after the fact by artisan Phillip August Hesch, making it much more stable, and adding to its iconic appearance. 

Whether or not the staircase is miraculous, we can all likely agree that it's very beautiful indeed. And while an anonymous carpenter might not appear at your house to build one for you, perhaps you can get some assistance from us here at Stair Parts USA. 


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