Friday, July 10, 2015

The Miraculous Staircase


Summerlan RV Park and Service Center
1900 S. Cedar St (I-25 Exit 451)
Raton, NM 87740
575-445-9536
GPS: 36.88194, -104.43161

The Loretto Chapel
207 Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Phone: 505-982-0092
GPS: 35.685773, -105.937648
Parking: 35.682232, -105.937600

Travel Day 11 – Albuquerque, NM to Raton, NM


We said goodbye to Diane Wege about 9 AM with plans to continue north as far as Raton, NM – 233 miles for today. But today was different; Tricia and Ava were on board, spending their first day with RVers on the road. Having two folks in the back seat of the truck during a day of travel was a new experience for us too. Over the years, without realizing, we've developed a travel communication jargon; some of it from the RV subculture, some of it just ours. We all had several good laughs through the morning when Michelle or I would interject an "RV peculiar" question or comment into an otherwise normal conversation. We had to explain the meaning of "Toad". Michelle commented on the need for a gas stop and I responded with "What's the DTE?" She answered with "75 miles". Tricia quizzically asked, "What does DTE mean?" We explained that DTE means Distance To Empty, a feature of our 2010 Dodge Ram truck that predicts how much further we can travel before we run out of gas. Another one is "What's the B?". Our truck has two trip odometers, Trip A, and Trip B. We use the Trip A odometer to track total distance traveled for the trip and the Trip B odometer for the daily mileage. Trip B gets reset to zero every morning. "What's the B?" is our shorthand for "How many miles have we traveled so far today?"

We planned to make one tourist stop in Santa Fe, NM. Our good friend Bob Hamilton has been on my case big time about stopping at the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe to see the Miraculous Staircase. I promised him several times that we would do that and today was the day. Santa Fe is about 65 miles from Albuquerque; about one hour into our trip for today. I figured that would be a good rest stop. We would arrive late morning, have our first potty stop, see the chapel, have an early lunch, gas up, be on our way, and finish our day's travel with no more stops. We did that – sort of.

Loretto Chapel is not a roadside attraction. It is buried in 'Old Santa Fe'. 'Old' anyplace sends up red flags to an RVer. It screams narrow streets and difficult parking. That was true this morning. From I-25 to Old Santa Fe is a deceptively short distance on US-84 and we quickly found ourselves inching along very narrow streets in search of a place to park the Cougar. We got lucky. The nearby Santa Fe Visitor Information Center has a decent size parking lot with several RV parallel parking spots along the outside edge. If you make this stop, head straight for there (GPS: 35.682232, -105.937600). When we arrived, only one RV space was taken, so parking the Cougar was pretty easy. For the next fellow – not so much.

Loretto Chapel and the Miraculous Staircase


The Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA is a former Roman Catholic church that is now used as a museum and wedding chapel. It is known for its unusual helix-shaped spiral staircase (the "Miraculous Stair"), the name and origin of the builder has still not been verified. The Sisters of Loretto credit St. Joseph with its construction.

It has been the subject of legend and rumor, and the circumstances surrounding its construction and its builder are considered miraculous by the Sisters of Loretto and many visitors. Wikipedia

History of the staircase construction

In 1872 Jean-Baptiste Lamy, the Bishop of the Santa Fe Archdiocese, commissioned the building of a convent chapel to be named Our Lady of Light Chapel, which would be in the care of the Sisters of Loretto. The chapel was designed by French architect Antoine Mouly in the Gothic Revival style, complete with spires, buttresses, and stained glass windows imported from France. Although it was built on a much smaller scale, the chapel bears an obvious resemblance to the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris.

The architect died suddenly and it was only after much of the chapel was constructed that the builders realized it was lacking any type of stairway to the choir loft. Due to the chapel's small size, a standard staircase would have been too large. Historians have also noted that earlier churches of the period had ladders rather than stairs to the choir loft, but the Sisters did not feel comfortable with that prospect because of the long habits that they wore.
The Sisters of Loretto relate the story this way:
Needing a way to get up to the choir loft the nuns prayed for St. Joseph's intercession for nine straight days. On the day after their novena ended a shabby-looking stranger appeared at their door. He told the nuns he would build them a staircase but that he needed total privacy and locked himself in the chapel for three months. He used a small number of primitive tools including a square, a saw, and some warm water and constructed a spiral staircase entirely of non-native wood. The identity of the carpenter is not known for as soon as the staircase was finally finished he was gone. Many witnesses, upon seeing the staircase, feel it was constructed by St. Joseph himself, as a miraculous occurrence.

The resulting staircase is an impressive work of carpentry. It ascends twenty feet, making two complete revolutions up to the choir loft without the use of nails or apparent center support. It has been surmised that the central spiral of the staircase is narrow enough to serve as a central beam. Nonetheless there was no attachment to any wall or pole in the original stairway, although in 1887 -- 10 years after it was built -- a railing was added and the outer spiral was fastened to an adjacent pillar. Instead of metal nails, the staircase was constructed using dowels or wooden pegs.

Hypotheses for the mystery:
Master carpenter Tim Carter explains that "A simple staircase has two beams, called stringers, and the treads of the staircase rest on these beams or are connected to them...the weight of the staircase is transferred to where the two stringers touch the floor. The only difference with the staircase at the Loretto Chapel is these beams or stringers have been twisted into a helix." However, Carter does view the staircase as a magnificent work of art, and a feat difficult to create using modern tools, let alone with crude hand tools and no electricity. Wikipedia
Another bit of the legend not mentioned by Wikipedia is this:
The Sisters were overjoyed and planned a fine dinner to honor the Carpenter. Only he could not be found. No one seemed to know him, where he lived, nothing. Lumberyards were checked, but they had no bill for the Sisters of Loretto. They had not sold him the wood. Knowledgeable men went in and inspected the stair and none knew what kind of wood had been used, certainly nothing indigenous to this area. Advertisements for the Carpenter were run in the New Mexican and brought no response. Skeptical Inquirer

We visited the chapel. The combination of beauty and engineering always impresses me. We had someone snap these pictures to prove to Bob Hamilton that we were here. Thanks Bob for the recommendation. This is a sight worth seeing and a story worth knowing.

Yes. We were here.


We spent some time in the chapel ...

Ava lit a candle for 'Great Grand' (Michelle's mother)


... and the gift shop. Since the Loretto Chapel is no longer an active church but rather a museum, it has a gift shop. They carry merchandise directly related to the "miraculous staircase" and chapel, and also a line of religious gift items. The selection includes items from many categories, including: religious folk art, angels, religious music, books, pamphlets, postcards, rosaries, crucifixes, crosses, icons, retablos, sacred art, holy cards, santos, statuary, note cards, candles, prayer books, clerical stoles, novelty items and gifts for any religious occasion. While there, a display of very interesting jewelry caught my eye. BicoAustralia is the name and they sell a line of amazing pendants (and other items). Ava, Tricia, and Michelle wondered over to the display and also got completely sucked in. I chose to start Ava's collection with this pendant and a braided 16" black 4mm PVC choker.

Bico B066_Water Lily Pendant
Purity, Beauty, Simplicity


Now everyone was ready for lunch. I used Yelp and Scout for suggestions. We got a couple recommendations from the locals. All this led us to the San Francisco Street Bar & Grill located just off the Plaza on the corner of San Francisco St. and Don Gaspar Ave. The restaurant is on the second level. There we enjoyed a refreshing lunch.

After lunch, we wandered around the Plaza for a bit.


Ava felt she needed to befriend all the animals.


By then, it was time to remind everyone that today was a travel day and we still had about 170 miles to go. Back in the truck, we got out of Old Santa Fe and onto I-25 north without incident.

Today was Ava's first experience seeing the landscape of our western states. I realized that she had never seen real mountains before. I was glad to be a part of that and I hope she gets to see many more.

Along I-25 in northern New Mexico


Tonight we would spend our last night in New Mexico, sleeping in Raton. We got to Raton and into our campsite by 5:45 PM. Tricia and Ava enjoyed watching our parking and setup routine. They were particularly interested in seeing where they were going to sleep because there was no visible indication where and how we could create a second bed in the Cougar.

Summerlan RV Park and Service Center, Raton, NM


The campground owner gave us a discount coupon for K-Bob's Steakhouse. Michelle and I had not had a steak in some time and K-Bob's was close by so that was the choice for dinner. The food was good, the place was clean, and the ambiance was relaxed western.

K-Bob's Steakhouse, Raton, NM


After dinner, we stopped at a Dairy Queen for dessert. It was Friday night in a small western town and DQ was the place where all the local kids gathered before heading to the high school football game. Boots, jeans, plaid shirts, western hats, and a truck – just what every young man should have. We had fun people watching. ("My just lub it")

Today was a good day and we were all tired. Tomorrow we hit Colorado.