The helix-shaped Miraculous Staircase is the centerpiece of the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The Santa Fe Archdiocese commissioned construction of the chapel as part of the Academy of Our Lady of Light. At the request of Bishop Jean Baptisite Lamy, the Sisters of Loretto funded and cared for the Roman Catholic school and chapel.
Builders began work in 1873. Near completion they realized that there was no staircase to get to the choir loft. Local carpenters were consulted, but they concluded the only way to access the loft would be a ladder because of the chapel's small size. While ladders were commonly used in churches at the time, the Sisters of Loretto were not comfortable using one.
According to legend, the Sisters of Loretta prayed for nine days to St Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the final day, a stranger appeared at the door, with nothing but simple tools, looking for work. He completed the staircase in around six months then left without receiving payment or revealing his identity. Also mysterious was where the carpenter got his lumber as the species of wood used is not native to the region.
Regardless of origin, the Miraculous Staircase is an engineering feat and a beautiful work of art. 33 evenly spaced steps make two rotations, ascending 20 feet to the choir loft. No nails or glue were used and there is no apparent center support. 10 years after initial construction, a railing was added and the outer spiral was attached to a pillar (which can be seen in the picture below).
The Loretto Chapel operated for years as a church and academy before it was sold to private ownership in 1971. Today it is primarily a museum and wedding venue.
The Loretto Chapel is located in the historic district of Santa Fe, New Mexico, just a few blocks from Santa Fe Plaza. The exact address is 207 Old Santa Fe Trail, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 87501. It is open daily to visitors at a cost of $3 (as of May 2018), however the hours are seasonal (view their website for more information).
When to Go
Include the Loretto Chapel as part of a trip exploring Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and Northern New Mexico. While you can visit Santa Fe year round, the best time of year to go is fall. The weather is best, rates are cheaper, and some of the areas renowned festivals and fiestas are scheduled.
How to Get There
Fly into Albuquerque International Sunport and rent a car. It is about an hour and 10 minute drive. While Santa Fe has an airport, flights are limited. Once in Santa Fe you can park in the historic district and explore the area on foot.