Spotlight on the Loretto Chapel

As I wrote earlier, a few weeks ago I was in lovely Santa Fe for a conference held at the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis Assisi.

In some of my down time, I was able to walk across the street to the famous Loretto Chapel, known around the world for its miraculous staircase. When I was a kid I had a big, hardcover Ripley’s Believe It or Not book that included a blurb about this architectural feat.

The story goes that in the 1800s, the Sisters of Loretto had a church built, only then to find that there was no staircase connecting the choir loft to the main floor. (Angie’s List was 200 years too late.) Local builders wouldn’t or couldn’t take on the task, so the nuns prayed a novena to St. Joseph for help. On the ninth day, a mysterious, scruffy man showed up on muleback, built in secret this crazy spiral staircase which stands without any support, and then disappeared. The legend says that this man was St. Joseph himself.

According to the nice guy at the chapel’s admission desk, the wood is evidently from a previously-unknown species and the identity of the builder has never been confirmed. He says NASA and naval engineers have been confounded by how this staircase exists.

Whether this is all true is for you to decide.

Miraculous or not, the staircase is really a work of art.

Behind the staircase there is a confessional. The placard next to it reads something like “This is a confessional, used before Vatican II for people to confess their sins to a priest,” which, okay.

These days, the chapel is no longer owned by the archdiocese and is solely a tourist attraction, owned by a local nonprofit and occasionally rented out for weddings. The $3 admission fees are collected to support the remaining Sisters of Loretto, of whom there are very few.


After I finished up at the Loretto Chapel I walked to the New Mexico state capitol, because I like state capitols.

Here are some photos of the only round state capitol building in America. I found it very interesting. There is a large New Mexican art collection on the walls, much of which is Catholic in nature. I am surprised this has not met with opposition from the “separation of church and state” crowd.

The official gem of New Mexico is turquoise. In the state capitol’s rotunda they have the state seal inlaid in turquoise and brass in the floor. Very cool.


I think it is fascinating to see what “stately” looks like when you remove the usual Greco-Roman elements like domes and columns.