The Story of the Miraculous Staircase at Loretto Chapel


In Santa Fe, New Mexico, one finds a chapel known as the Loretto Chapel. The chapel is famous for a spiral staircase inside it, often called the “Miraculous Staircase,” a name bestowed upon it because of its extraordinary construction and the legend that surrounds its origin. In this article, we will delve into the story of the Miraculous Staircase, evaluate its significance, and ponder its implications for the Catholic faith.

The Legend and History

The Loretto Chapel was constructed in the late 19th century to serve a community of Sisters of Loretto. When the chapel was near completion in 1878, the Sisters realized there was no staircase leading to the choir loft. Various carpenters and architects were consulted, but the design of the chapel made it very difficult to construct a staircase without disrupting the space. According to legend, the Sisters prayed for St. Joseph’s intercession and were visited by a mysterious carpenter who completed the staircase with minimal tools and materials. After the job was finished, he disappeared without a trace, leading many to believe that it was St. Joseph himself who had come to their aid.

Unique Features of the Staircase

The Miraculous Staircase has two 360-degree turns with no visible means of support. Additionally, it is said that the wood used does not match any other type in the region. It is a marvelous piece of carpentry, evoking wonder and awe among those who see it.

Faith and Miracles

When discussing the Miraculous Staircase, it’s essential to recall what the Catholic Church teaches about miracles. According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, miracles are “signs of God’s intervention in the world” (CCC 547). While the Church has not officially declared the Loretto staircase a miracle, it is nonetheless seen by many as an extraordinary event evoking a sense of the divine.

Jesus himself, in the Gospel of John, said: “If you don’t believe me, believe the works, so that you may know and understand that the Father is in me and I am in the Father” (John 10:38).

Lessons from the Story

The legend of the Miraculous Staircase can teach us about the virtues of faith, hope, and prayer. The Sisters of Loretto, faced with an insurmountable challenge, turned to prayer and invoked St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. In this context, the story serves as an example of what the Bible advises: “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray” (James 5:13).

Scepticism and Explanation

It’s worth noting that many people have tried to find a rational explanation for the staircase’s construction. Some argue that it’s not miraculous, just an exceptional feat of engineering. This line of thought is not necessarily in conflict with Catholic teaching. The Catechism states: “The miracles of Jesus and the saints, prophecies, the Church’s growth and holiness, and her fruitfulness and stability ‘are the most certain signs of divine Revelation, adapted to the intelligence of all’; they are ‘motives of credibility’ (motiva credibilitatis), which show that the assent of faith is ‘by no means a blind impulse of the mind'” (CCC 156).

Theological Opinion and Universal Teaching

While the story of the Miraculous Staircase is popular among Catholics and even non-Catholics, it’s important to distinguish between what is a universal teaching of the Church and what might be considered a theological opinion. The notion that the staircase is miraculous is a matter of personal belief rather than an official teaching of the Church.


The story of the Miraculous Staircase at Loretto Chapel is one that inspires and intrigues. Whether one sees it as a genuine miracle or an extraordinary feat of carpentry, it stands as a testament to the enduring power of faith and the mysterious ways in which God can work in our lives. And while the Church has not given an official position on the staircase, it nonetheless serves as a powerful symbol, much like the miracles recounted in the Gospels, which call us to wonder, to believe, and to come closer to the divine mystery that is God.

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Note: While content aims to align with Catholic teachings, any inconsistencies or errors are unintended. For precise understanding, always refer to authoritative sources like the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Always double-check any quotes for word-for-word accuracy with the Bible or the Catechism of the Catholic Church.

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