Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten - Loretto Chapel


Loretto Chapel
Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, New Mexico

The story of the Loretto Chapel began with the appointment of Bishop (later Archbishop) Jean Baptisite Lamy to the New Mexico Territory in 1850. The following year, in step with his mission to build churches and schools, Father Lamy asked the Sisters of Loretto to establish a school for girls in the early Western frontier town of Santa Fe.

In 1853, the Sisters opened the Academy of Our Lady of Light (aka Loretto). Over the next twenty years, the day and boarding school flourished and grew. By 1870, the Sisters believed the school needed a chapel. Funds were raised. Land was purchased. And in 1873, work on Loretto Chapel began.

The Gothic Revival-style chapel was patterned after King Louis XVI's private chapel, Sainte-Chapelle.


September 15, 1999


September 15, 1999


"Loretto Chapel
Built 1873
Miraculous Stairway"

"Open Daily 9:00 am to 6:00 pm
Sunday 10:30 am to 5:00 pm"

Millions of people have visited the Miraculous Staircase (also sometimes called the Miracle Staircase) in Loretto Chapel, and millions more saw it in the 1998 CBS drama, The Staircase, starring Emmy winner Barbara Hershey as Mother Madalyn. The Staircase was written by Christopher Lofton and Directed by Karen Arthur

[George Bernard Shaw once defined a miracle as  "an event which creates faith."]


Building the Chapel

Stone for the Loretto Chapel was quarried from locations around Santa Fe including Cerro Colorado, about 20 miles from Santa Fe near the town of Lamy. The sandstone for the walls and the porous volcanic stone used for the ceiling were hauled to town by wagon.

Only as the Chapel neared completion did the Sisters realized access to the choir loft, 22 feet above, would be by ladder. A staircase would take up too much space in the small chapel.

Yet climbing a ladder to the choir loft would be a great difficulty for the Sisters. This posed an impossible dilemma that no architect or carpenter was able to solve.


September 15, 1999


September 15, 1999


The Miraculous Staircase

According to the story, the Sisters, seeking an answer to their architectural design dilemma, made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.

Legend says on the ninth and final day of a novena, a man showed up at the chapel with a donkey and a toolbox looking for work. Months later the elegant circular staircase was completed and the carpenter disappeared without pay or thanks. Some believe that he was St. Joseph himself.

Whoever the carpenter was, the staircase is a wonder. Some of the design considerations are said to still perplex experts today.

Built without nails (only wooden pegs) the staircase has two 360 degree turns with no visible means of support -- a kind of double helix design in the Old West -- and with no railing. It was not until 1887 -- ten years after the staircase was completed -- that an artisan named Phillip August Hesch added the railing.

There are also design questions about the number of stair risers compared to the height of the choir loft and about the types of wood and other materials used in the stairway's construction -- some of which appear not to have been available from any known local source.


September 15, 1999


Two of the Chapel's Stained Glass Windows

The lovely, fragile, ornate stained glass in the Loretto Chapel was carried by wagon to Santa Fe.

Created in Paris by the DuBois Studio, the glass was purchased in 1876 and brought by ship to New Orleans. It was then taken by paddle boat up the Mississippi River to St. Louis. From there the glass was carried by covered wagon over the Old Santa Fe Trail.

Some suggest this incredible feat of getting this fragile glass unbroken from Paris by boat and wagon train to Santa Fe was itself a minor miracle.


September 15, 1999


"...touching something that a saint had produced..."

It was about sixty years ago and I was living in Santa Fe. I had a girlfriend who had been a student at the Catholic school and attended services at the Loretto Chapel. She took me into it one day and told me what had happened for the building of the stairway. She had been one of the choir girls and had climbed those stairs many times. 

I had the distinct privilege of standing next to what appears to be wondrous miracle. I reached out and touched it. I couldn't help but feel I was almost touching something that a saint had produced. I've never forgotten that feeling.

Herman A Bloss
December 9, 2005

Loretto Chapel is now a private museum operated and maintained, in part, for the preservation of the Miraculous Staircase and the Chapel itself.

For information on the Miraculous Staircase, you may wish to contact: 

Loretto Chapel 
211 Old Santa Fe Trail 
Santa Fe, NM 87501

Email: Elizabeth Anne VanderPutten