When our family visited Santa Fe, New Mexico last year on a Route 66 road trip, one of our must-see attractions was the Loretto Chapel. This Roman Catholic church, completed in 1878, is home to the “Miraculous Staircase” which some believe to have been built by St. Joseph himself.
As the story goes, the Loretto Chapel was constructed without a way to access the choir loft located 22 feet above. To solve the problem, the Sisters of Loretta prayed a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, and on the ninth and final day of prayer, a mysterious man showed up with a toolbox and donkey. This stranger build a stunning circular staircase over a six month period and then vanished once the staircase was complete without pay or even thanks.
As miraculous as the circumstance of the carpenter is the staircase itself which was built from an unknown type of wood with two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. Nearly 250,000 visit the Loretto Chapel each year to view the Miraculous Staircase. Here are some tips to help plan your visit.
It’s privately owned
When the parish school closed in 1968, the Loretto Chapel went on the market as well and was purchased by a private party in 1971. Visitors should be aware that the building is no longer a functioning Catholic Church and is instead a private museum that is being maintained, in part, for the preservation of the staircase and the chapel itself.
During the summer months, the Loretto Chapel is open from 9-5 Monday to Saturday and from 10:30-5 on Sundays, with limited hours during the winter months. Since the Chapel is privately owned and leased out for special events and weddings, we recommend that you call before your visit to make sure that it’s available for viewing.
Bring some cash
Admission to the chapel is $3 a person. While paying admission to see a church may seem outrageous, keep in mind that this is actually a self supporting museum. Compared to the dozens of museums our family visited on our vacation, $3 is quite reasonable! There also is a gift shop on the site which sells religious gifts, books, and brochure about the Chapel and the Miraculous Staircase.
What to see
The admission price basically lets you see the inside of this small chapel which in all honesty, looks like other Gothic Revival Style churches we have seen elsewhere in the US. The Miraculous Staircase is what makes the visit worth it and even though the staircase is off limits to foot traffic, visitors can get up close and almost beneath it. The fact that the staircase has no visible means of support is mind blowing; also interesting to us was how it appeared to have been carved out of one piece of wood. We spent nearly 20 minutes in the Chapel, but the majority of the visitors seem to stay between 5-10 minutes.
The Loretto Chapel is at 207 Old Santa Fe Trail in the heart of “old” Santa Fe. For visitors to Santa Fe, the Chapel is one of several sites that make up a downtown walking tour along with the oldest adobe home in the US, the San Miguel Mission, Palace of the Governors, and more.
For visitors who enjoy history and unusual architecture, or simply want to experience the miracle of this staircase, the Loretto Chapel is definitely worth including on your walking tour of old Santa Fe.
More by this contributor:
What to see at the Pecos Pueblos in New Mexico
Fun things to see along State Road 14 from Santa Fe to Albuquerque
5 things our family loved about Tucumcari, New Mexico