The Mysterious Staircase of Loretto Chapel – Analysis

Develop one he did, and the shimmering, all-wood construction is just a wonder to see, spiralling upward 22 feet from ground to attic in two 360-degree turns with no apparent way of support. The contractor not just resolved the problem of floor-space, in therefore doing created a framework whose beauty really improved the visual benefit of the whole chapel.
sisters visited thank him When, he was removed. No body even knew his name. ‘After trying to find the person (an advertisement actually went in the neighbourhood paper) and discovering no trace of him,’ claims the Loretto Chapel Web site, ‘some figured he was St. Frederick herself who came in response to the siblings’ hopes.’
The ‘miracle,’ then, is twofold: one, the stairway was constructed with a mysterious stranger — perhaps St. Frederick herself — who apparently appeared in response to a prayer and vanished just like mysteriously; two, although constructed completely of wood — no fingernails, no screws, no steel of any kind — and missing any kind of central support, the stairway was structurally sound and still stands to-day.
In either case you view it, the miracle of the stairway crumbles under analysis. Who actually created it? The topic of gossip and legend for over one hundred years, the riddle of the carpenter’s identification was ultimately resolved in the late-1990s by Mary Jean Straw Cook, writer of Loretto: The Sisters and Their Santa Fe Chapel (2002: Museum of New Mexico Press). His title was Francois-Jean ‘Frenchy’ Rochas, a specialist carpenter who emigrated from France in 1880 and found its way to Santa Fe right around the time the staircase was built. In addition to data that connected Rochas to a different French company who done the chapel, Cook discovered an 1895 death notice in The New Mexican explicitly naming Rochas as the builder of ‘the handsome staircase in the Loretto chapel.’

This shows among other activities that the carpenter’s identity wasn’t a secret to citizens of Santa Fe during the time. Sooner or later, possibly following the last remaining members of the era of Santa Feans who observed the making of the Loretto Chapel first hand died, Rocha’s contribution to the Loretto Chapel passed from memory, and record gave way to legend.
As to the secret of the foundation of the timber employed in the building of the staircase, Cook theorizes that it absolutely was imported from France — indeed, the whole staircase might have been delivered intact to America and constructed start to finish in France.
As suspicious writer Joe Nickell describes in his post ‘Helix to Heaven,’ there’s nothing mystical, not as remarkable, concerning the stairway’s design. To start with, though it’s certainly stood the test of time and never collapsed in the years of its existence, the integrity of the framework has long been under consideration and public utilization of the steps has been banned since the 1970s.

Notwithstanding the absence of a central column, the staircase does gain from central assistance in the form of an internal stringer (one of the two upwardly-spiralling beams to which the actions are connected) whose curvature radius is really tight that it features as ‘a nearly solid pole,’ within the terms of a wood technologist quoted by Nickell. Additionally — and this appears to have gone unnoticed by people who decide to stress the ‘secrets’ of the stairway — the outside stringer is mounted on a nearby anchor via an iron bracket, supplying extra structural support.


Instead of nails, Rochas installed the stairway as well as dowels or wooden pegs, a not uncommon technique still employed by some woodworkers today. Not even close to weakening a structure, the utilization of wooden pegs can in fact reinforce crucial joints since, unlike iron nails or screws, the pegs expand and contract under varying climate conditions at the same rate whilst the surrounding wood.
Call it a marvel, call an inspired feat to it of engineering, call an aesthetic triumph to it — a global tourist destination as the spiral staircase of Loretto Chapel justifies its position and is a function of beauty. The term ‘miracle,’ nevertheless, is mis-applied.

Share That Post Sources and further reading: Helix to Heaven: The Staircase Stands however the Fantasy Drops Suspicious Inquirer, Nov/Dec 1998
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