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The Miraculous Staircase in Santa Fe New Mexico

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Blog entry by Bob Simmons posted 1047 days ago 3028 reads 3 times favorited 22 comments Add to Favorites Watch

“People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily.”
Zig Ziglar (1926 – )...Motivational author and speaker
 
Miraculous Staircase of Santa Fe NM
The Miraculous Staircase of the Loretto Chapel located in Santa Fe New Mexico is an amazing piece of carpentry and woodworking. If this work of art were built today, the reaction of people would be the same as it was when this set of stairs was completed in 1878. People who actually see this spiraled staircase instantly have a feeling of admiration and marvel. This is exactly how I felt as a young carpentry/woodworking apprentice during a cross county motorcycle trip to Sante Fe in the summer of 1978.

Miraculous Staircase - Woodworking - CarpentryThe Miraculous Staircase is located at The Loretto Chapel in old Santa Fe, New Mexico.  It is here that any aspiring or accomplished woodworker / carpenter can truly appreciate being a part of the craft of woodworking. The spiral staircase has two complete turns and has the shape of a spring. The wooden staircase is supported only where the top section is attached to the choir loft and where it base is attached on the chapel’s main floor. The design and construction of the Miraculous Staircase have left engineers and designers puzzled as to how the staircase can function without any structural support or bracing.
 
The Miraculous Staircase consists of 33 wooden steps. Two years after the spiral staircase was installed, a beautiful wooden handrail was added by other talented craftsmen. This amazing spiral railing is supported by spindles turned on a wood lathe. The underside of the stairs appears to be a veneer that follows the circular pattern. Keep in mind that no nails or screws were used by the woodworker in the construction of the staircase.
>Miraculous Staircase - Woodworking - CarpentryThe master carpenter who built the Miraculous Staircase is unknown and he was said to have only a few tools at his disposal. However, anybody could see that he was loaded with skill, experience, and desire. As an apprentice carpenter I knew I had the desire. I just needed skills and experience. This confirmed my belief that it was essential for me to work and learn from the best craftsmen I could find. Today, I am grateful to my instructor and to all the talented journeyman carpenters and woodworkers that I have had the pleasure of working with during my career.

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If you have seen the Miraculous Staircase, what are your thoughts about it?

How do you think the carpenter was able to build the staircase on his own?

What hand tools do you think the carpenter used in building the stairs?
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-- Bob Simmons, Las Vegas, NV, http://TheApprenticeandTheJourneyman.com



22 comments so far

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

7627 posts in 2657 days


#1 posted 1047 days ago

WOW!

Kinda makes you wonder who did it doesn’t it?

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: http://www.WoodworkStuff.net ... My Small Gallery: http://www.ncwoodworker.net/pp/showgallery.php?ppuser=1389&cat=500"

View lilredweldingrod's profile

lilredweldingrod

2495 posts in 1712 days


#2 posted 1047 days ago

I think we might refer to this as the ultimate in wood joinery. Probably like the goose that laid the golden eggs, one day some fool will have to know how it was done and destroy it forever.

View Michael1's profile

Michael1

403 posts in 1265 days


#3 posted 1047 days ago

I have heard of this story. The story I heard was that the craftsman came to the church while traveling. He asked the nuns at the church if there was any work he could do for them in exchange for lodging and food. They told him they needed the staircase built and when he finished he left and was never heard of again. Personally I dont think he was a man at all, but an angel sent by God and helped by God in making the staircase. I am sure allot of people would take that lightly but considering this was built in the 1800s and ig you seen it today, in person, the most skilled craftsman of today would have difficulty replicating it with todays technology let alone to be built on sight with only hand tools that the original craftsman carried on his back.

-- Michael Mills, North Carolina, http://www.scicaskets.com

View SASmith               's profile

SASmith

1554 posts in 1592 days


#4 posted 1047 days ago

This is an amazing story. I first read of it in the book “A splintered history of wood”.

-- Scott Smith, Southern Illinois

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile

TopamaxSurvivor

14621 posts in 2281 days


#5 posted 1047 days ago

I have heard of this before but could not remember where it was located, thx for the post.

Why can’t an engineer or carpenter look at it ans see how it is made?

-- "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile

TopamaxSurvivor

14621 posts in 2281 days


#6 posted 1047 days ago

It would still be a miraculous mystery that took over 100 years to figure out ;-))

-- "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Murdock's profile

Murdock

107 posts in 1089 days


#7 posted 1047 days ago

There are several explanations available on the web, I think the basics are that the inner spiral is tight enough that it forms a sort of ‘post’. As I understand it walking up it is sort of like walking on a spring, it bounces. The railing was added later to make it a little safer to walk up.

BTW, I don’t think it lessens the miracle one bit to know what holds it up. It is still an amazing piece of work and was done by an woodworker who showed up at the exact time needed and would not accept any form of payment besides, as mentioned before, food and shelter.

-- "Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new." - Albert Einstein

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile

TopamaxSurvivor

14621 posts in 2281 days


#8 posted 1047 days ago

Knowing that is isn’t solid makes a lot of sense, but the real miracle is that it hasn’t worn itself out!! Is it possible to see the joints without taking it apart?

-- "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Joe Lyddon's profile

Joe Lyddon

7627 posts in 2657 days


#9 posted 1047 days ago

I guess we’re trying to say it really didn’t happen… Out of sight… Out of mind?

Jesus was a raised as a carpenter… if I remember right…

... nah… impossible… didn’t happen… I gotta SEE it to believe it…

I guess… (???)

-- Have Fun! Joe Lyddon - Alta Loma, CA USA - Home: http://www.WoodworkStuff.net ... My Small Gallery: http://www.ncwoodworker.net/pp/showgallery.php?ppuser=1389&cat=500"

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile

TopamaxSurvivor

14621 posts in 2281 days


#10 posted 1047 days ago

I googled a bit. They know who built it. It was mentioned in his obit in 1895. The legend seems to have grown out of the next generation who did not know who done it ;-)

The explanations say it is as simple a stringer on each side of the stair treads. If it is that simple, I wonder why they can’t make another? ;-))

-- "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View Maveric777's profile

Maveric777

2687 posts in 1682 days


#11 posted 1047 days ago

Any way you care to look at it is simply a stunning piece of craftsmanship…. Thanks for sharing Bob… Enjoyed having this gem brought to my attention…

-- Dan ~ Texarkana, Tx.

View tom427cid's profile

tom427cid

294 posts in 1076 days


#12 posted 1047 days ago

Lived in Santa Fe years ago-it was a marvel then as it still is today. For me I like the mystery of it.Sorta encourages one to think.
tom

-- "certified sawdust maker"

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile

TopamaxSurvivor

14621 posts in 2281 days


#13 posted 1046 days ago

I got lost in those narrow one way streets pulling a 31 foot fifth wheel!! There were a few times I wondered if I would make the tight turns ;-)) I suppose I drove right by it, but didn’t know it was there. I was a bit preoccupied at the time.

I wish I would have known it was in Santa Fe when we were there. I would have found it! When it was built without a railing, I wondered about the sisters going up and down it. I have walked steel 40+ feet in the air, but I’m not sure I would want to climb those stairs without a hand rail ;-))

-- "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View TopamaxSurvivor's profile

TopamaxSurvivor

14621 posts in 2281 days


#14 posted 1046 days ago

http://www.blocklayer.com/stairs/spiral.aspx It will not calculate a full 720 rotation.

Total Rise 22’, Ideal Rise 8”, Inside Radius 1’ 6’, Tread Length 30”, Inside Run 7”, Tread Depth 12” = a rotation of 717.6 degrees. Probably pretty close to what he built judging from the pics.

-- "some old things are lovely, warm still with life ... of the forgotten men who made them." - D.H. Lawrence

View helluvawreck's profile

helluvawreck

15462 posts in 1472 days


#15 posted 1046 days ago

If he was a European carpenter he had probably served a long apprenticeship and was highly skilled. No doubt there were many highly skilled American cabinetmakers at the time also. However, they had a much longer tradition than had we and they had all of those wonderful old cathedrals, palaces, and other fine buildings that they had a tradition of working on.

I believe in angels and demons because I believe the Bible. Demons were fallen angels so all were angels. I fully believe that angels watch over us and they influence us in various ways. I also believe in miracles and that God also works through people to accomplish His purposes. I believe that it is entirely possible that this cabinetmaker/carpenter? may have been sent by God’s providence to build this winding staircase for these nuns because He had heard their prayers. I really do believe that some people are inspired by God at certain times in their life to do extraordinary work. Hey, folks, what can I say? I’m an old fashioned man.

-- If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away. Henry David Thoreau

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