Miraculous Staircase in Loretto Chapel

I recently learned about the Miraculous Staircase from a Chris Stefanick show. It’s such an amazing piece of work, with a wild “legend”, I kept reading things.

It seems it wasn’t always such a mystery before the Chapel was sold for secular use. And researchers have discovered the craftsman with sound evidence.

Now the Church never claimed it was a miracle, in the manner of a Saint from heaven, or miraculously built, rather seeing a miracle by an answered prayer and an inspired work which is more appreciated knowing it was a man and his talent. His name was Francois-Jean Rochas, and he was a French immigrant.

I’m intrigued by the man, on account of the Staircase he created, but also how he slipped out of recognition in order for the myths to form. The Bishop of the Sister’s and their Chapel most likely hired Rochas, but why did Rochas not receive credit due to him in the next decades?

Was it hard to praise the workmanship of a man they thought was a heathen or something? His death was recorded as a suicide, but there is reason to consider murder. Was there scandal with the Bishop, and his French connection (no pun intended) was associated with misconduct?

I feel like there is more to the story. What do you know about Francois-Jean Rochas, the Staircase, or Bishop Lamy?

Here is an article:

By KATE NELSON - SANTA FE, N.M. - Only here, in the City of Holy Faith, could the notion of a miracle wrought by a mysterious angel thrive against evidence to the contrary.
Talk of the supposed miracle didn’t even start until decades after its purported occurrence. Since then, it has been nurtured and burnished into a hair-tingling tale of romantic excess.
And monetary benefit.
Pay the $2.50. Step inside the Loretto Chapel. Visit its gift shop.
Seven days a week, camera-toting tourists crowd into what is now a private museum. Chattering away, they nearly drown out the audio tape that tells - over and over, hour after hour - the saga of the miraculous staircase that became internationally famous in the 1930s by its mention in Ripley’s Believe It or Not.
In 1852, Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy brought the Sisters of Loretto to Santa Fe to help tame the Wild West. By 1878 the sisters had opened a girls school and a little chapel, modeled after Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.
Per the architectural custom of the day, no staircase led to the choir loft. Monks just climbed ladders. Nuns, however, needed a staircase. Installing one would block half the pews. What to do, what to do?
The nuns decided on a novena - nine days of prayer seeking a heavenly favor.
On the ninth day, a carpenter appeared. Silently, he created the spiral staircase using only a hammer, a saw and tubs of water to bend a type of wood found nowhere else in New Mexico.
When he finished, he disappeared, never to be paid, never to be seen again.
At this point on the endless audio tape, the voices of a choir rise to an Easter-morning level of rapture.
Was the mysterious man really St. Joseph, patron saint of carpenters? That’s the legend, the romance, the miracle.
But wait a minute, says historian Mary J. Straw Cook in the newly revised edition of her 1984 book, “Loretto: The Sisters and Their Santa Fe Chapel.”
The carpenter, she says, was Francois-Jean Rochas, a member of “les compagnon,” a French guild of celibate and secretive craftsmen. And he was far from saintly. Reclusive and irascible, he ended up dead in his Dog Canyon cabin, a victim of either suicide or assassination.


… continued

Cook reached her conclusion after seven years of research and seven trips to France, combing through archives, chancing upon relatives and piecing together scattered bits of history.
“You try everything to document everything,” she said. “I have proved this to most historians. They’re convinced this was, in fact, the man.”
Her evidence includes an 1895 article in The New Mexican, in which the chapel’s contractor, Quintus Monier, names Rochas as the staircase’s builder. And a 1881 entry in the sisters’ daybook indicates that a Mr. Rochas was paid $150 “for wood.”
Cook has found a freight slip for wood delivered by ship from France and speculates that Rochas brought it over himself.
Upon his mysterious death in southern New Mexico, Rochas left three unmailed letters that mention Lamy, later the title character in Willa Cather’s book, “Death Comes for the Archbishop,” and another craftsman who worked on the chapel.
The book containing Cook’s evidence was released last month to glowing reviews in various newspapers. The word was out. The legend was solved!
Despite all that, the audio tape plays on. Perhaps the story is too good to die.
“It was a miracle in any case,” said the Rev. Jerome Martinez, rector of St. Francis, the cathedral built by Lamy. “It was an answer to prayer.”
Cook isn’t about to dispute that.
“A lot of people still believe that it was St. Joseph, and that’s OK,” she said. “The mystique will remain, according to your faith. In and of itself, that staircase is a work of art. It has to be inspired.”
Miracles appear, after all, in every sunrise, every flower and every baby. Why not in the labor of a man, guided by the hand of God, here in the City of Holy Faith?

… end of article

Thanks for sharing. I think I first heard of this story back in the 80s on Unsolved Mysteries. I guess they didn’t realize it had been solved. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

Yes, and there is even a recent YouTube recording of a Bishop explaining the myth. After beginning a historical approach to the story, he turns to the myth, telling details which are complete fables.

It’s sad. St Joseph may have interceded, but a real man, who created a beautiful masterpiece has been neglected for a myth.

What has always amazed me is that it originally didn’t have a railing!

1 Like

Yes! Crazy!

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