It was in the year 1610
that the Spanish founded a town that is now known as Santa Fe, the
capitol of the state of New Mexico. Santa Fe was originally called
the Royal City of the Holy Faith of St. Francis of Assisi or, as
it was named in Spanish, La Villa Real de la Santa Fe de San Francisco
de Assisi. It was occupied by Indians, Mexicans, and Spanish and
was under Spanish control until a war which placed this area under
the rule of the New Republic of Mexico for 25 years.
Later, As a
result of the US victory in the Mexican war, this southwest area
was ceded to the United States in 1848. Following the war we
find the city of Santa Fe having a multiplicity of cultures. Native
American Indian, Spanish, Mexican and Anglo cultures provide a rich,
varied and very colorful heritage.
At the end of the Old Santa Fe
Trail stands the Loretto Chapel. Inside the Gothic structure is
the staircase referred to as miraculous,
marvelous and is sometimes called St. Joseph’s Staircase.
The stairway confounds architects, engineers and master craftsmen.
makes over two complete 360-degree turns, stands 20’ tall
and has no center support. It rests solely on its base and against
choir loft. The risers of the 33 steps are all of the same height.
Made of an apparently extinct wood species, it was constructed
with only square wooden pegs without glue or nails.
of the Loretto Chapel began when Bishop Jean Baptisite
Lamy was appointed by the Church to the New Mexico Territory in1850.
Bishop Lamy, seeking to spread the faith and bring an educational
system to this new territory, began a letter writing plea for
priests, brothers and nuns to preach and teach. In one of his
is said to have written, “I have 6000 Catholics and 300
first acceptance of his general plea was from the Sisters of Loretto.
1852 the Sisters of Loretto responded to Lamy’s pleas by
sending seven sisters who agreed to make this arduous journey
to Santa Fe. Their trek was through St. Louis, then up the river
Mo. This small group was beset by a cholera epidemic, the Mother
Superior died, and another nun was too ill to continue the journey
to Kentucky. An additional story continues that they traveled
by wagon through bad weather, and Indian country.
The Sisters arrived
in Santa Fe in 1852 and opened the Academy of Our Lady of Light
(Loretto) in1853. The school was started
from very small beginnings to a school of around 300 students,
despite the challenges of the territory (smallpox, tuberculosis,
roofs and even a brush with the rowdy Confederate Texans during
the Civil War).
The school was started in 1853 and grew from very
small beginnings to a school of around 300 students. The campus
covered a square
block with 10 buildings. Through tuition’s for the girls
schooling, donations, and from the sisters own inheritances
from their families,
they built their school and chapel.
Jean Baptiste Lamy brought
architect Antoine Mouly and his son, Projectus Mouly from Paris,
France to Santa Fe to be architect – builders
for what is now St. Francis Cathedral. It required ten years
to build. During the first period of construction, and as an
Archbishop Lamy advised and encouraged the sisters to utilize
the father and son to design and build their dream chapel. The
had been involved in the renovation of Sainte Chapelle, in Paris,
in the early 1800’s. Mouly was encouraged to fashion the
Loretto Chapel after the Sainte Chapelle. It was the favorite chapel
of the archbishop
from his early days in Paris, France. It is reported that the
sisters pooled their own inheritances to raise the $30,000 required
this beautiful Gothic chapel.
It was decided that the school
needed a chapel. Property was purchased and in 1873 work began
on the Loretto Chapel.
by the French clergy in Santa Fe, the Gothic Revival-style chapel
was patterned after King Louis IX's Sainte-Chapelle
in Paris; a striking contrast to the adobe churches already in the
Stone for the Chapel was quarried from locations around Santa Fe
including Cerro Colorado, about 20 miles from Santa Fe near the
town of Lamy.
The sandstone for the walls and the porous volcanic stone used for
the ceiling were hauled to town by wagon.
The ornate stained glass
in the Loretto Chapel also made part of its journey to Santa Fe
via wagon. Purchased in 1876 from the DuBois Studio
in Paris, the glass was first sent from Paris to New Orleans by
sailing ship and then by paddle boat to St. Louis, MO. where it
by covered wagon over the Old Santa Fe Trail to the Chapel.
was completed in 1878 and has since seen many additions and renovations
such as the introduction of the Stations of the Cross,
the Gothic altar and the frescos during the 1890s.
Staircase, which legend says was constructed or inspired by St.
Joseph the Carpenter, was built sometime between 1877 and
1881. It took at least six months to build, and has two 360 degree
with no visible means of support.
The Loretto Academy was closed in
1968, and the property was put up for sale. At the time of sale
in 1971, Our Lady of Light Chapel was
informally deconsecrated as a Catholic Chapel.
Loretto Chapel is now a private museum operated and maintained,
in part, for the preservation of the Miraculous Staircase and the