Santa Fe, New Mexico – No Ordinary Walk in the Park

A few years ago, we watched a documentary on television about some little chapel in the middle of a historic city in the Southwest that has a neat staircase.  Of course, back then, who would have known we’d set out on our American safari looking for landmarks and other cool places that would lead us to writing this blog entry?

Once we said goodbyes to family and friends in Colorado, we embarked on our pre-winter journey heading south.  Our first stop, we only had three nights reserved at Santa Fe Skies RV Park outside of Santa Fe, so we had to make the best of our short stay.  Since we got there late afternoon, we stayed in Liberty for the evening and made our plans accordingly to wake early to head to the city to play tourist. 

There were two sacred destinations that we were really excited to visit since they were highly recommended by fellow RVers we met at the Air Force Academy Campground and what we learned on TV; the Loretto Chapel with the Miraculous Staircase and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi

Now, we’ve been in many churches; moreso for myself being that I was born and raised Catholic.  As noted, Catholic churches boast incredible architectural and artistic beauty and this Cathedral was/is no exception.  

Borrowed from the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi website (I know I know, I’m cheating! LOL), their history goes like this:

The City of Santa Fe was founded in 1610. That same year the first church was built on this site. The original adobe church was replaced in 1630 by a larger one, which was destroyed by the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680. 

The expelled Spaniards returned in 1693, but were not able to rebuild the church until 1714. This new church was named in honor of Saint Francis of Assisi, the Patron Saint of Santa Fe. 

The only part of this church still existing is the small adobe chapel dedicated to Our Lady La Conquistadora. Brought from Spain in 1625, the statue is the oldest representation of the Virgin Mary in the United States. 

In 1850, Santa Fe received its first Bishop, Father John Baptiste Lamy of France. Judging the 1714 old adobe church as inadequate for the seat of the Archdiocese, Bishop Lamy ordered a new Romanesque church built, and brought French architects and Italian stonemasons to build his Cathedral. 

Construction of the Cathedral began in 1869 and continued until 1887. The new Cathedral was built around the former adobe church and, when the new walls were complete, the old church was torn down and removed through the front door. 

The stained glass windows in the lower bay are from France and depict the twelve apostles. Seven archbishops, including Lamy, are buried in the sanctuary. 

Dedicated in 1887, the Cathedral’s spires were never completed due to lack of funds. During the most recent structural renewal in 1967, the Cathedral was strengthened, new sacristies were added, and a Blessed Sacrament Chapel was built. In 1987, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the dedication of the stone church, a monumental altar screen depicting famous saints of North and South America was installed. 

The Cathedral was elevated to a Basilica by Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. Basilica means a church of particular importance in Rome and abroad. Churches are honored by the Holy Father because of their importance in the history of spreading Catholicism.
To say it best, this Cathedral is HUGE…and absolutely GORGEOUS!  As we walked into the double doors, we were awestruck; so majestic and regal.

Dan just stood there, permiating every detail with his eyes as I walked each Station of the Cross, taking in every detail and reminding myself of my faith and appreciating my Savior’s sacrifice. 

We stayed at the Cathedral and the grounds (it had several small monuments and memory gardens) for a good two hours.  Tons to take in and appreciate, noting every scroll in the Corinthian columns, gold-leafing, hand-painted arches, cabinetry and very detailed woodwork.  It was incredible.

Before we left, I made a promise to myself earlier in the day to light a candle and say a prayer for my dear friend, Poppa Jack.  Here’s to you, Jack (who now is in heaven with our dear Lord)!  
After our visit, we walked a short jaunt to have a pushcart-in-the-park-lunch-in-foil (some southwestern taco fajita thingie) break at the Santa Fe Plaza (listed as a National Historic Landmark) and do some window shopping (because, EGADS, a pair of badass cowgirl boots I was enamored with were over $1000 and a blouse was ‘only’ five Bens!), we took a short walk to the Loretto Chapel.

The Loretto Chapel, located not to far from the Palace of the Governors and Santa Fe Plaza at the end of the Santa Fe Trail, is noted for it’s “Miraculous Staircase”.  It is a former Roman Catholic Church that is now used as a museum and a wedding chapel.  In the early 1850’s, there was instruction to build the Loretto Academy to teach and preach.  Property was purchased in 1873 and the building of the Loretto Chapel was begun. Influenced by the French clergy in Santa Fe, the Gothic Revival-style chapel was patterned after King Louis IX’s Saint-Chapelle in Paris; a striking contrast to the adobe churches already in the area.  The building was completed in 1878 with additions made later as the Stations of the Cross, the Gothic Altar and the Frescos during the 1890’s.  There is a legend though that says the staircase was constructed (or inspired) by St. Joseph the Carpenter sometime between 1877 and 1881.  Its said that it took six months to construct the staircase.  It has no visible means of support and shows two perfectly built 360 degree spiral turns.  In 1968, the Loretto Academy was closed and the property put up for sale. Our Lady of Light Chapel was deconsecrated as a Catholic Chapel in 1971.  But its not the history of the chapel that made it famous, a miraculous story did…read on.  

There are two mysteries that lie with the Miraculous Staircase inside the Loretto Chapel; its perplexing and magnificent construction and who the carpenter who built it was.

When the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878, the builders seemingly forgot to construct access to the choir loft.  Because the chapel was so small, they had to figure out some ladder system that wouldn’t take up much space nor detract from the chapel itself.  The Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to the patron saint of carpenters, St. Joseph.  Only night days of novena, a lone carpenter with his donkey carrying his tools passed by looking for work; he was hired by the Sisters with promise of payment when he was through with his work. 

A few months later, after completion, the carpenter with his donkey and tools disappeared without chance to be given his payment or appreciation. The Sisters were adament on searching for this man but were unsuccessful in their search.  The Sisters were perplexed asking ‘who was this man’.  It was then believed he was St. Joseph himself.  What’s astounding about what he built though is the staircase showed no means of support of its two 360 spiral turns.  Further, no evidence of usage of nails; only wooden pegs and the wood and other materials were not known to that geographic location.  


Today, great numbers of those of Faith have made pilgrimage to see such miracle as well as other travelers. There have been articles related to its building legend, been highlighted on ‘Unsolved Mysteries’ (where we learned of it) and even a television movie ‘The Staircase’.  

We’ve been to many churches; whether for worship, ceremony or visit, the Loretto Chapel and the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi ‘moved’ us.  Its hard to explain but we truly felt a blessing being bestowed upon us to be able to physically see it for ourselves.  If you ever have the chance to go to Santa Fe, put this on the top of your list of places to visit.  You won’t be disappointed.  

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