unchurched Unchurched // A different look at Christianity

The Loretto Chapel; Intersection Between Man and the Divine

Years ago my then-husband and I visited Santa Fe, New Mexico. I fell in love with the state, the culture, the architecture, the jewelry, and the history. The city, and much of the state, is a mixture of their history and modern day nestled within the Sangre de Cristo (Blood of Christ) mountain range. During that trip, Santa Fe became my favorite place on the face of the earth. It is there that I feel most at peace, and life makes sense.

Recently, one of my twin daughters and I traveled to Santa Fe to celebrate their 25th birthday. She, too, shares my love of the southwest, particularly Santa Fe. One of our favorite places is the Loretto Chapel, a tiny mission chapel, established in 1853 by the Sisters of Our Lady of Lights positioned at the end of the Santa Fe Trail. The sisters had traveled from St. Louis to Santa Fe in answer to a call from Bishop Lamy to start a girls school and church in the southwest capitol of Santa Fe.

The Gothic chapel is ornate for its day, and given the Basilica next door, rather unassuming, except for the miracle staircase that has fascinated and confounded many since it’s construction. The Chapel was finished in 1858, however, no access to the choir loft had been constructed. Most choirs at the time were comprised of young boys who used ladders, but the Loretto school was a girls school and thus required a less dangerous way to reach the loft. Local carpenters were consulted, but given the size of the Chapel, a traditional staircase would not fit and so the sisters took to prayer to solve their dilemma.

For nine (9) days the sisters prayed the Novena to St Joseph, the earthly father of Yeshua (Jesus) and a carpenter by trade, to meet their need of a staircase to the choir loft. On the final day of the Novena, according to legend, a man came to the Chapel, tools loaded on his donkey, looking for work. The man worked diligently for months to build the spiral staircase from the main floor to the loft, his only tools being a hammer, a saw, a carpenter’s square, and tubs of hot water to bend the wood. The staircase has no center support and is said to have been constructed without nails, only wooden pegs, makes 2 complete 360 degree turns and has 33 steps; the number of years Yeshua is believed to have lived on the earth. The wood used for the staircase is not indigenous to the southwest; reports are the wood is a product of Alaska.  When the staircase was finished, the man left without pay or a word of any kind to the sisters. An ad was taken out in the paper for any information about the mysterious carpenter as the sisters wanted to offer their gratitude and payment for the staircase and answer to their prayers. The man had vanished.

Whether the builder was Yeshua, Joseph, or a divinely inspired man, it matters not; visiting the Chapel is a spiritual and reverent experience. Any way you look at it, the staircase is a mystery and it’s history only adds to the legend. Do I believe the staircase was built by the hand of God? Yes, I do. It doesn’t matter who actually built the masterpiece; what matters is that heaven met earth in answer to prayers faithfully and earnestly spoken by the Sisters of Loretto. To me, the staircase is evidence that earthly concerns are of import to the Divine, and an inspiration to us to continue our journey with God.

From the first time I entered the Chapel of Loretto, and each time since, it has been a profoundly spiritual experience. The construction is truly a masterpiece in its own right despite the questions surrounding its builder. Each stair is precisely built, obviously designed and erected by a highly skilled professional. Given the limited space, tools, and materials, it cannot be anything but a Divinely created structure.

My daughter and I visited the Chapel twice during this visit. I am a people-watcher anyway, and watching others view the miracle staircase is interesting by itself. The vast majority of people are clearly impressed, if not awestruck; a reverential awe is present within the walls of the Chapel much of the time. Most sit quietly for a moment contemplating the beauty and paradoxical simplicity and complexity of its construction; others pray and light candles at the altar as well.

We are spiritual beings having a human experience and the miracle staircase touches a part of our spirit being. People from all manner of spiritual or religious background, and perhaps some neither spiritual nor religious visit the Chapel. It would not be a reach to surmise that the majority walk away with some sense of having experienced the Divine, if only for a moment. The Divine, God, is all around us.

Throughout history God has set before man evidences of a Universal Light, or Consciousness, many of us know as God. It is my firm belief these evidences, like the miracle staircase, are an intersection between the spiritual and the earthly realms, evidence of a Higher Consciousness, a Universal Flame from Whom we all originated, and it is to this Flame we are drawn…..

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