A Mysterious Staircase Made Out Of Wood That Is “Not From The Earth!”

A Mysterious Staircase Made Out Of Wood That Is “Not From The Earth!”

Imagine a staircase that defies logic and science. The Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, is home to a unique staircase, known as the “Miraculous Stair.” Built without using nails, glue, or any other hardware in the 1800s, this staircase is held together by wooden pegs. But what is even more mysterious is the origin of its wood. According to experts, the wood is not found in any part of New Mexico. In fact, it’s not even found anywhere else in the world!

The carpenter who built the stairs came as an answer to Loretto’s sister’s nine-day prayer to St. Joseph, the Patron Saint of Carpenters. He came on the 9th day of the prayer, built the stairs shocking everyone with his work of art, and left without even taking a penny. Let’s find out the details of this intriguing story.

A Mysterious Carpenter Appears to Build The Stairs

The chapel was completed and consecrated in 1878. However, the sudden death of the architect, Projectus Mouly, left the chapel without access to the choir loft.

The story behind the staircase begins with the Sisters of Loretto. Sisters prayed for nine days, a novena to St. Joseph, the Patron Saint of Carpenters, after the death of their architect. The architect left the chapel without access to the choir loft.

On the final day of their prayers, a mysterious carpenter appeared, carrying only a hammer and a carpenter’s square. This man worked alone to construct the staircase using simple tools and wooden pegs. After finishing the staircase, the man disappeared without seeking payment or recognition. Some believe the carpenter was St. Joseph himself, or someone sent by him, to answer the sisters’ prayers.

Image source: Quiet Corner / The New Mexico Historic Women Marker Program
Image source: Expedia / Sethby’s (Patron saint Joseph)

The Miraculous Staircase: “The Wood is not from Earth”!

The staircase in the Loretto Chapel is a true masterpiece of woodworking. It’s around 20 feet tall, making two complete 360-degree turns. All without the support of a central pole. The entire weight of the staircase rests on the bottom stair. Remarkably, it also has built without using nails, glue, or any other hardware. Instead, wooden pegs are keeping the staircase together.

There are 33 steps representing the 33 years of life of the Christ. The inner stringer of the staircase has 7 wooden segments joined together with pegs, while the longer outer stringer has 9 segments. To provide additional support, handrails were added later in 1887, and iron brackets were attached in the mid-20th century. However, these modern additions damaged the staircase by restricting its natural movement.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the staircase is the wood and its origin. The wood is identified as a type of spruce. But that is not native to New Mexico and is not found anywhere else in the world. Experts still struggle to provide a proper explanation for this.

Image source: Quora / Travel and Curiosities ( Image on the left is a colorized image of how it originally looked and before adding the handrails)
A Mysterious Staircase Made Out Of Wood That Is “Not From The Earth!”
Image source: Inn & Spa at Loretto

Scientific and Professional Opinions

Professional carpenters have marveled at the staircase’s construction. Tim Carter, a master carpenter, described it as “a magnificent work of art” and expressed awe at the idea of building such a structure with primitive tools. Another carpenter, interviewed by Ben Radford, showed the complexity of designing a two-turn spiral staircase.

Theories About The Builder

In the early 2000s, historian Mary Jean Cook suggested that François-Jean “Frank” Rochas, a French carpenter, might be the mysterious builder. Rochas, known for his woodworking skills, was linked to the staircase through an 1895 newspaper article. An entry in the Sisters’ logbook also notes a payment to him for wood in 1881. However, none of it mentions him building a staircase.

Despite this theory, some experts dispute it, pointing to alternative interpretations of the logbook entry.

The Loretto Chapel: Historical Background

The Loretto Chapel, commissioned by the Sisters of Loretto in 1873, continued as their girls’ school, Loretto Academy. Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy admired the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. He wanted the Loretto chapel’s design inspired by it. The Gothic-style architecture, complete with spires, buttresses, and stained glass windows imported from France, made the chapel stand out among the adobe homes of Santa Fe.

Image source: Wikipedia / Travel Sanata Fe


The staircase of the Loretto Chapel remains a blend of legend, craftsmanship, and scientific curiosity. Its construction is a testament to extraordinary woodworking skills, and its mysterious origins continue to fascinate visitors. Whether viewed as a miraculous answer to prayers or an exceptional feat of carpentry, the staircase invites awe and wonder. If you ever find yourself in Santa Fe, visiting the Loretto Chapel to see the “Miraculous Stair” in person is a must.

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