The Loretto Chapel was built between 1872 and 1877. The architect 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. Due to the chapel's small size, a standard staircase would have been too large. Historians have also noted that earlier churches of the period had ladders rather than stairs to the choir loft, but the Sisters did not feel comfortable with that prospect because of the long habits that they wore.
The Sisters of St. Loretto relate the story as follows. 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 with a donkey and tool box appeared at their door. He saw that there was no ladder or stairs. 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. He used a small number of primitive tools including a square, a saw and some warm water and constructed a spiral staircase entirely of non-native wood. The identity of the carpenter is not known for as soon as the staircase was finally finished he was gone. Many witnesses, upon seeing the staircase, feel it was constructed by St. Joseph himself, as a miraculous occurrence. 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. It has been surmised that 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, although in 1887, 10 years after it was built, a railing was added and the outer spiral was fastened to an adjacent pillar. Instead of metal nails, the staircase was constructed using dowels or wooden pegs. The legend claims that the mystery had never been satisfactorily solved as to who the carpenter was or where he got his lumber, and that there were no reports of anyone seeing lumber delivered or even seeing the man come and go while the construction was being done. Since he left before the Mother Superior could pay him, the Sisters of Loretto offered a reward for the identity of the man, but it was never claimed. Sure sounds like a miracle to me!
This first picture below is of a photo of the staircase before the railings were added.
|Photo before the railings were added (1877-1887)|
|The staircase after the railings were added 10 years later|
|Another photo of the staircase today|
|The chapel's beautiful alter|
|Debbie lighting a candle at Loretto Chapel|
|One of the beautiful stain glass windows|
|The Rosary tree outside the chapel entrance|
On our way back to Espanola we stopped and took a photo of what is called "Camel Rock."