Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Miracle Staircase

St. Joseph and the Miracle Staircase of Loretto Chapel

photo from http://www.santafenm.info/churches.htm

March 19th is the day the swallows return to San Juan Capistrano Mission,
or at least to the high rise office buildings nearby
(see the Still Waters blog post for March 19, 2012).
In the Catholic religion,
March 19th is also the Feast of St. Joseph, the carpenter,
who was the earthly father of Jesus of Nazareth.
St. Teresa of Avila believed that St. Joseph interceded
on her behalf many times.
This may explain the modern practice of burying a statue of St. Joseph
in the yard of a house one wishes to sell.
St. Joseph's reputation for intercession may also explain
 why the sisters of the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico
prayed for his help in the 1870s when they needed
someone to build a staircase that could reach
the chapel's 22-foot high choir loft.

photo of choir loft and staircase from http://www.santafenm.info/churches.html

The carpenters who built the chapel told the sisters that a ladder
would have to be built to access the choir
because a staircase would take up too much space in the small chapel.
But a ladder would not do, so the sisters began to pray.
On the 9th day of their prayers, a man appeared with a donkey and some tools
and asked the sisters if they had any work.
Months later the sisters had a beautiful spiral staircase,
but the man, his work finished, had departed without asking for pay or thanks.

Loretto Chapel staircase
photo from http://www.lorettochapel.com/staircase.html

The staircase is a work of art and incredible craftsmanship.
Besides its having been built by an unknown carpenter,
the staircase has no visible means of support, has no nails,
and is made from a type of cold-climate spruce wood
not native to New Mexico.
It has never been more specifically identified.

Loretto Chapel staircase
photo from http://www.lorettochapel.com/staircase.html

I have been to the Loretto Chapel and seen the staircase.
It was a hot day when I visited, but the the sandstone walls kept the chapel cool.
The chapel was dimly lit, but the white Gothic-style altar  glowed.
The dark wooden staircase really stood out in contrast to the rest of the chapel.
Flickering candlelight, cool quiet, a mystery staircase
that some believe was crafted by St. Joseph himself--
all added up to a beautiful respite from Santa Fe's summer heat.
But the best part of the experience was seeing the miracle staircase in person.

The staircase was originally built without railings;
those were added for safety reasons some time after construction.
The following image is on a postcard that is sold in the museum gift shop.
I copied it from http://myplacetoyours.blogspot.com/2011/12/carpenter-and-staircase.html.
The blog can be accessed here for more photos of the staircase:
The Carpenter and the Staircase

I love the legend of a mysterious stranger who appears
in answer to a prayer.
I read once that the universe is full of helpers and friends.
And maybe too, an occasional angel that arrives just when we need one.

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