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Thread: Miracle Staircase

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    netsirk's Avatar
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    Default Miracle Staircase

    A friend of mine just came back from New Mexico and was telling me about this staircase...simply amazing!


    Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe, New Mexico

    In 1610, Spanish colonists founded the town we know as Santa Fe, meaning Holy Faith, and the area’s culture has been seeped in Catholicism ever since. After it was ceded to the United States in 1848, Santa Fe became the capital of the Territory of New Mexico, and it was only a short time after that when members of the clergy moved in droves to serve this vast territory. Among the clergy to journey to New Mexico were a group of nuns, and when they prayed for a staircase to the choir loft of their new church, they got much more than they could ever have imagined. To this day, no one really knows who built the mysterious and ethereal staircase in Our Lady of Light Church, but it is a feat of engineering and construction which continues to amaze and baffle the experts.

    Santa Fe, New Mexico is a city rich in the traditions and lore of the Old West. A century and a half ago, it was the last outpost along the famed Santa Fe Trail, a bustling untamed haven for outlaws, gamblers, mavericks and renegades. The trail was in existence as early as 1541 in parts of the mid-west, as Coronado has left his mark carved into rocks along it, but the trail did not become an important continental route until 1821.

    In 1852, the Sisters of Loretto, a religious order in Kentucky, dispatched seven nuns to bring religion and education to the frontier. It was a journey fraught with danger, harsh weather, hostile Indians and disease. They traveled the old wagon trail, headed to the relatively safety of Santa Fe. While on the way, they were attacked by cholera. One of the sisters died, and one had to return because she was too ill to travel. Eventually, five nuns were able to continue the trip to the west.

    Once in Santa Fe, the sisters set about preparing for the work which lay before them. They were there to teach the many Indians and Mexicans who populated the Southwest, and this required construction of a school and a church. Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy was in New Mexico at the time, and he commissioned the Our Lady of Light Academy to be built. A group of Mexican carpenters worked to build both a school and a convent.

    In 1873, construction began on the chapel. French architect P. Mouly directed the work of the carpenters and stonemasons, who some twenty years earlier had labored to build the school Patterned after the famous Sainte Chapelle in Paris, the workers labored five years building the magnificent gothic structure adjacent to the school, the first of its kind west of the Mississippi. In April 1878, the sisters were finally able to celebrate the completion of the Chapel of Our Lady of Light.. It was and still is an exquisite piece of architecture with European-made stained glass windows and Italian statues depicting the stations of the cross. The sisters were delighted, except for one minor detail. There was no staircase leading to the choir loft. Just before the chapel’s completion, the principal architect, Mouly, was shot and killed by John Lamy, the archbishop’s nephew, who thought the builder had romantic designs on his wife. The construction came to a halt. It left the sisters with their chapel, but no means of ascending to the music chamber without a ladder. Even worse, the workers concluded that the planned stairway would not fit inside the structure anyway.

    In those days, it was not unusual to build a church with no staircase to the choir loft. Many of the lofts of early churches in New Mexico had no staircases. They simply leaned a ladder up and climbed the ladder and sang, but the sisters could not climb the ladder in their long robes. They needed a staircase.

    Other architects, engineers, and carpenters came in to assess the situation. Interestingly, no one could think of a solution to the problem. A conventional stairway was deemed not feasible because of the smallness of the chapel and the height of the loft. Building a conventional set of stairs would require the removal of too many seats. The sisters, being nuns, decided they would not do anything until they could make a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.

    The novena required nine days of meditation and regular prayer. For eight days, the sisters prayed. Nothing happened. On the ninth and last day of the novena, a stranger arrived at the chapel. He was an elderly man with a mule and some simple tools, and he volunteered to work in exchange for food. Since he was a carpenter, the sisters let the stranger attempt what so many had said was impossible. The sisters were operating on faith. It was the last day of their novena, and a carpenter had come.

    If the carpenter had a name, it has long been forgotten. According to the legend, he carried only three tools: a hammer, a saw, and a T-square. Some say he worked for six months, others say it was longer. He only had one request: tubs of water. Outside the chapel, the sisters would occasionally see slats of wood soaking in the water. When the carpenter was finished, he called the nuns together. "You have your staircase," he said. Then he left, without being thanked or paid, and was never heard from again.

    The carpenter remains a mystery man. He was obviously a master carpenter to be able to build the magnificent staircase which he built. There is no center support. This is what makes that staircase so extraordinary. It is an incredible spiral stairway with two complete 360-degree turns and without nail or screw or central support of any kind. It rests by its own geometric balance and design. It is very steep, twenty-two feet tall going around and around from the floor to the choir loft. There is a certain springiness when walking up it, and it has thirty-three stairs. The sisters will remind everyone that this is the exact number of years that Jesus Christ was on the Earth.

    At the completion of the staircase, the sisters planned a feast for the carpenter. When he failed to appear, they searched the town. The mysterious stranger was missing. Nobody had seen him. Nobody knew where he had slept. Nobody had fed him. Nobody knew where he had gone. To add to the mystery, the local lumber yard had no record of wood being purchased for the staircase. The sisters had made a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, and they began to believe that St. Joseph had built the staircase. As far as anyone knows, the carpenter never returned to Santa Fe. The chapel has now become a tourist attraction.

    Through the years, the mystery surrounding the staircase persisted. In 1965, Oscar Hadweiber, a third generation master carpenter, visited the chapel for the first time. He went inside and saw the staircase, becoming completely overwhelmed by the magnificent piece of carpentry, as had so many other experts before him. But, he was also reminded of an old family story which said that his grandfather had come to this country and had built a staircase somewhere in the west.

    Oscar’s grandfather, Johann Hadweiber was a renown European carpenter, who had spent two years traveling and working in Colorado and New Mexico. It was during that two-year period that the spiral staircase had been built. What if Johann Hadweiber had been the mysterious carpenter?

    Oscar Hadweiber became obsessed with the staircase. Over the next ten years, he built ten perfectly scaled models. He sent a letter to the sisters contending that his grandfather had been the builder.

    Naturally, the sisters were skeptical. They were surprised and shocked at the claim and asked for some sort of proof. They were more than willing to give credit to the builder of the staircase, but they needed something more than word-of-mouth from Oscar Hadweiber that his grandfather had been the builder. They needed substantiating documentation of some sort.

    In 1970, Oscar found what he felt was proof. In a storage room in his sister’s home, he came across his grandfather’s old tool box. Inside was a faded sketch of a spiral staircase. It was an overhead view of thirty-three steps.

    Oscar Hadweiber died in 1980. The sketch was never authenticated and has since disappeared. All that exists today is a photocopy of the drawing. As for Johann Hadweiber’s tools, they, too, have disappeared.

    Architects from across the country have visited the Loretto Chapel, as it is today called. All speak with amazement of the staircase’s construction. It still stands more than one hundred years later, and some think it should have crashed on first use. Many experts wonder how the carpenter managed the curved effect with such precision. The wood is spliced in seven places on the inside and in nine places on the outside, with each piece forming part of a perfect curve. All are baffled by the staircase’s mysterious strength. Equally strange, the stairs are made of a hardwood that is not native to New Mexico, and where the carpenter obtained it in the first place is still a mystery.

    Who was the stranger that answered the sister’s prayers? Was it Johann Hadweiber, the European builder? Or could it have been, as the sisters of Loretta believed over one hundred years ago, a messenger of God on a sacred mission?

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    Ahhhh....my home state of NM. Believe it or not, I have yet to visit the miraculous staircase and I am only 50 or so miles away. I may just have to take the family up there this weekend. Here is the outside of the chapel.



    Since you seem so amazed Net and will probably be visiting the chapel someday, be sure to let me know. We can meet you and your family up there and be your personal tour guides.

    .........time to add a DAR ring to my collection.........





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    Quote Originally Posted by fox
    Since you seem so amazed Net and will probably be visiting the chapel someday, be sure to let me know.  We can meet you and your family up there and be your personal tour guides.

    ummm...OK
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    From the end of WW II until 1986, my father made no trips further than 200 miles from his home on the Texas/Oklahoma border.

    In 1986, I took him to see these stairs that he had been telling me about all my life. For that, he would go.


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    Wow...that's amazing! Lizzy!!
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    P.S. I forgot to mention that my dad was a "master finish" carpenter.

    Might enhance my story a little, huh?

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    cool liz, so is my dad.
    Amazing some of the work he has done.


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    seen it...been there, net

    awesome indeed

    pack

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    jealous jealous jealous

    perturbed at fox for living so close to it and not going.....tsk tsk tsk
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    hey, what can I say? I lived in ABQ for almost 3 years before going to our world famous Balloon Fiesta.

    .........time to add a DAR ring to my collection.........





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