515. Loretto Chapel

Bishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy was appointed to the New Mexico Territory in 1850 and his mission was to build schools and churches. The Sisters of Loretto from Kentucky answered the call when Bishop Lamy asked them to start a school for girls in Santa Fe. Bishop Lamy himself accompanied the six Sisters down the Santa Fe Trail to Santa Fe. The nuns were the fi rst religious order of women in New Mexico. In 1853, a school for girls was established and it was called Academy of Our Lady of Light, also known as Loretto.

For twenty years the boarding school thrived and in 1870 the nuns requested a chapel for the school. They raised the funds needed, purchased the land and started the construction in 1873. When the architect for the chapel design was killed, the chapel was finished without a stairway to the choir loft . Since there was no access to the choir loft except by ladder, the Loretto nuns sought to find someone to build a staircase.

Legend says a carpenter with a donkey and a toolbox was looking for work and he completed the circular or spiral staircase. This is sometimes called “The Miracle Staircase.” There are two complete 360-degree turns in the staircase and it was built with square wooden pegs. Ten years later, in 1887, Phillip August Hesch added the railing. The stained glass in the chapel was carried by wagons to Santa Fe. The Gothic Revival-style chapel was patterned after King Louis XVI's private chapel, Sainte-Chapelle. 

Today it is privately owned and has remained opened as a museum. Arrangements can be made for weddings and concerts.

Loretto Chapel

Map to Loretto Chapel
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