"When the Sisters of Loretto needed a staircase built for their new Chapel in 1872, they brought in a French carpenter by the name of Francois-Jean Rochas, a member of les compagnon, a French guild of celibate and secretive craftsmen." -- Arts Alliance, Albuquerque, New Mexico
Everyone loves a miracle; but some do have explanations --though well guarded, apparently, in the case of the staircase at Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The fable of that miracle, which seemingly has been explained and documented, lives on in an email that I recently received from a friend in Pittsburgh, Pa.
The email titled "Miraculous Staircase" notes that as many as 250,000 visitors pass through the chapel annually to view the suspended circular staircase. Built in the late 1800s, the chapel's construction plans apparently did not include a staircase to the choir loft. The nuns supposedly prayed for a solution that came in the form of an anonymous stranger who appeared mysteriously and offered to biuld a staircase, then disappeared without a trace -- and without his pay.
Believers specualted that St. Joseph was the carpenter -- mystery number one. A second mystery ponders on how the suspended staircase can balance without any apparent cnetral support. A third mystery wonders where the wood came from, since it is not native to the Santa Fe region.
In her book, Loretto: The Sisters and Their Santa Fe Chapel (published in 2002), as reported in Wikipedia.org, Mary Jean Straw Cook cites an 1895 obituary in The Santa Fe New Mexican for native Frenchman Francois-Jean Rochas that claims he was "an expert worker in wood [who] built the staircase in the Loretto chapel." The Wikipedia article also notes that Ms. Straw Cook "found in the Sisters' logbook an entry for March 1881: 'Paid for wood Mr Rochas, $150.00.'" And the Arts Alliance in Albuquerque states: "When the Sisters of Loretto needed a staircase built for their new Chapel in 1872, they brought in a French carpenter by the name of Francois-Jean Rochas, a member of les compagnon, a French guild of celibate and secretive craftsmen." The Arts Alliance article notes that Mr. Rochas later moved to southern New Mexico and was murdered in 1895 by cattlemen who seemingly wanted to take his water rights. Mystery number one solved.
Regarding the staircase's suspension and balancing act, Wikipedia notes that "the central spiral of the staircase is narrow enough to serve as a central beam." Mystery number two revealed.
Ms. Straw Cook alsso has found eveidence, acdording to Wikipedia, that the staircase probably was built in France, then fitted into the chapel by Rochas -- explaining, perhaps, the exotic origin of the wood. Mystery number three explained.
Today, the Wikipedia article notes, the chapel is privately owned by a company that owns an adjacent hotel. It can be booked for weddings; and visitors may enter the Gothic Revival style chapel, a small-scale replica of a larger one in Paris, to see the staircase and stained-glass windows for a fee of $2.50.
by Nancy E. Thoerig 10-09-08
picture from Wikipedia.com