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The Mysterious Loretto Chapel Miracle Staircase Has  A Storied Past

Somewhere around 1878, the beautiful Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico was nearly complete.

Sadly, however, before it was done, the architect in charge of the design and implementation passed away. Normally this wouldn’t be a huge problem. However in this case he died before telling anyone how he planned to get the choir up to the choir loft 20 feet above the ground floor.

Loretto chapel staircase
Image: @vikimsn on Instagram

A simple staircase would be the normal solution. Problem was, there wasn’t any room for that. The nuns in charge were torn with what to do. They couldn’t properly host their church service without a choir in their loft… so they scrambled around trying to find a solution.

Humble Beginnings Lead To Humble Visions

Loretto chapel staircase
Image: @rlincoff on Instagram

At first, they thought that a ladder would do the trick. This, however, didn’t feel like an adequate solution to the nuns. Too dangerous, right? Legend has it that they prayed and prayed for a solution. Specifically, they prayed a novena to the Patron Saint of Carpenters, Saint Joseph.

Just when they thought that they’d have to figure out a different solution or perhaps place an unsafe ladder in a beautiful church, something strange happened.

A Mysterious Master Craftsman Who Never Claimed His Work

Loretto chapel staircase
Image: @shaeraven73 on Instagram

As the story goes, on the ninth day of prayer, a mysterious man came to the door of the church. Looking for work, he showed up with nothing but a box of rudimentary tools and a donkey.

The description that they gave of the man matches the biblical description of Saint Joseph himself. He’s often shown with a set of tools, and of course the donkey is a familiar image in many nativity scenes.

The mysterious man didn’t give his name, but he told the nuns to leave him be for awhile so he could build a solution for the choir loft dilemma. His only stipulation was that the nuns would keep the church clear of visitors while he was working.

Loretto chapel staircase
Image: @travel_n_love on Instagram

The nuns agreed. From there, the story varies. Some people say they came back in just a couple days, and others say a few months. At some point, though, the nuns came back to the church to find the Loretto staircase: most beautiful staircase they’d ever seen.

And the man was gone.

The Construction & Materials Left Some Scratching Their Head

Loretto chapel staircase
Image: @wynonna98 on Instagram

One of the puzzling parts of the story is that the materials he used for the staircase were not local. In fact, they were quite unusual, and were sourced from somewhere they couldn’t identify, outside of Santa Fe. These days that wouldn’t be a big deal, but back then it sure was. Especially considering the man had only a donkey.

Further, the staircase was built with a double helix shape, which included two 360 degree turns. This is both rare and extremely difficult.

To top it off, the miracle staircase has no visible supports. There was no centre pole to support the stairs, which means that the entire weight of the structure rested on the bottom step. The staircase is held together with wod pegs. No nails were used at all.

And the last puzzling and inspiring element: there are 33 stairs leading up to the choir loft; notably the age of Jesus when he was crucified.

What We Know About The Miracle Staircase Today

Loretto chapel staircase
Image: @comulkey on Instagram

Today, master carpenters who’ve been consulted on the staircase consider it a work of art. Even using modern tools, building this structure would still be an incredible accomplishment.

To think that this mystery man built it with rudimentary tools, no electricity, and no one to help him is hard to fathom or understand.

An historian in the early 2000s claimed to have solved the mystery of the miracle staircase. Mary J. Straw Cook found evidence suggesting that a man named Francois-Jean Rochas had built the Loretto Chapel staircase. A local paper mentioned it in 1881, which does match up with the dates the nuns had recorded around construction and the staircase.

The religious implications remain, however. The church people think that Rochas was sent by St. Joseph to build the staircase. And it makes sense. Rochas was never paid, nor was he given any credit for his work. Sounds like the work of a saint to me.

Can I Visit The Loretto Chapel Staircase Today?

Loretto chapel staircase
Image: @attorneykrystal on Instagram

You can visit the Loretto Chapel staircase today! Or tomorrow, for that matter. The Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico is a really popular place to visit because of the amazing staircase.

The chapel is also super hot as a wedding venue. It’s used as a museum as well, and is also featured in Unsolved Mysteries, as well as a documentary called “The Staircase” in 1998.

Here’s the geo location if you want to go and check it out! The church looks absolutely stunning. Plus, it’s not every day you get to see a true-blue miracle in real life.

Related: This staircase will give you and your lover 15 years of happiness

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