Folks, I've been trying to get a little more organized, gather some of those digital files that have gotten all over the place these past years, and I can assure you that it's been a rich voyage of discovery. For example, I just came upon some pics that we took at the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe in 2004. Here's the legend:
In 1872, Jean-Baptiste Lamy the Bishop of the Santa Fe Archdiocese, commissioned the building of a convent chapel to be named Our Lady of Light Chapel, which would be in the care of the Sisters of Loretto. The chapel was designed by a French architect, Antoine Mouly, in the Gothic Revival style. Although it was built on a much smaller scale, the chapel bears an obvious resemblance to the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.
Two mysteries surround the spiral staircase in the Loretto Chapel: the identity of its builder and the physics of its construction.
When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, there was no way to access the choir loft twenty-two feet above. Carpenters were called in to address the problem, but they all concluded access to the loft would have to be via ladder as a staircase would interfere with the interior space of the small Chapel.
Legend says that to find a solution to the seating problem, the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of prayer, a man appeared 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. After searching for the man (an ad even ran in the local newspaper) and finding no trace of him, some concluded that he was St. Joseph himself, having come in answer to the sisters' prayers.
The stairway's carpenter, whoever he was, built a magnificent structure. The design was innovative for the time and some of the design considerations still perplex experts today.
The staircase has two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. Also, it is said that the staircase was built without nails—only wooden pegs. Questions also surround the number of stair risers relative to the height of the choir loft and about the types of wood and other materials used in the stairway's construction.
Over the years many have flocked to the Loretto Chapel to see the Miraculous Staircase. The staircase has been the subject of many articles, TV specials, and movies including "Unsolved Mysteries" and the television movie titled "The Staircase."
And here's a possible id on the builder:
The subject of rumor and legend for over a hundred years, the riddle of the carpenter's identity was claimed to have been solved in the late 1990s by Mary Jean Straw Cook, author of Loretto: The Sisters and Their Santa Fe Chapel (2002: Museum of New Mexico Press). The author claims the builder's name was Francois-Jean "Frenchy" Rochas, an expert woodworker who emigrated from France and arrived in Santa Fe around the time the staircase was built, and who may have known or at least met another French contractor who worked on the Chapel. However, at only 43 years of age, Rochas met with a violent death in December 1894. Unidentified attackers had shot him and left him to die alone in his small cottage and he was found dead in 1895. Cook found a January 5, 1895, death notice in The New Mexican which named Rochas as the builder of "the handsome staircase in the Loretto chapel". Frenchman Quintus Monier that told of Francois-Jean Rochas's death at Dog Canyon, near today's Alamogordo.
Now I don't know if Frenchy Rochas was the builder of the staircase or not, maybe it was St. Joseph - but whoever did it was a visionary. I've sure never seen anything like it. It must've looked even better in the days when it was assumed that God would keep the choir safe, negating the need for a handrail. See how one miscreant can ruin it for everybody? Anyway, that last picture is an interpretation of what it might have looked like pre-rail. I just thought those UFOs or Angels or whatever they are made the photo a little more fun.
The Loretto Chapel
207 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, NM 87501