Wednesday, May 9, 2007
Nuns' mysterious climb
The Sisters of Loretto got more than they prayed for when they sought divine intervention for a way to reach the choir loft at their church at the end of the Santa Fe Trail.
After praying for nine days for a solution, a mysterious carpenter showed up and built an incredible, yet scary, 23 1/12-foot spiral stairway without hand rails at the back of the sanctuary in Santa Fe, N.M.
“It’s frightening,” said a tour guide at The Loretto Chapel, which is no longer a Roman Catholic Church. “The nuns had to crawl up them and scoot down on the bums.”
Seven nuns with brave souls had come to the city in 1862, heeding a call from the local priest for sisters to establish a school in what was then known as the dangerous Wild West.
After surviving the arduous journey through Indian territory, the nuns set up a school and, in 1873, they built the Gothic-Revival, Colorado sandstone chapel, modeling it after San Chapel in Paris.
Because the chapel is so small, architects at the time suggested that the nuns access the loft via a ladder to preserve seating space in the pews. The nuns, instead, turned to St. Joseph the Carpenter to solve their dilemma.
Lo and behold, the carpenter knocked at their door with a tool box and the will to craft the stairs that were considered to be a marvel for their shape and lack of any obvious support beams. Making two 360 complete turns, the stairs were also believed to contain no nails, and held together by wooden pegs.
When the steps were finished, the carpenter vanished without taking any pay for his work. Several years later, the nuns found the money to hire another carpenter to add a hand railing to the stairs to make the climb a little less terrifying.
The church was deconsecrated in 1971 and sold to a private company that maintains it as a museum and place for weddings and other religious services.