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New Mexico: A staircase that holds a pilgrim’s call

Many experts have scrutinized this miraculous staircase and they are all at a loss to explain how it was made possible in those days using simple tools when it is almost impossible even today to create one such with all the modern carpentry tools that work on electricity.

New Mexico: A staircase that holds a pilgrim’s call

By Joe Palathunkal
On May 1 when the world remembers the workers, the people of Santa Fe in New Mexico, USA remembers a worker of workers from Nazareth for his masterly crafted helix –shaped spiral staircase that has become the “Miraculous Stair” ever since it was completed between 1877 and 1881.

Nobody knows how the wooden staircase of 20 feet was built without the support of a newel or central pole and the stair has seven inner segments and its outer stringer has nine segments, and nobody knows the exact wood used in the staircase. Some think it may be a type of spruce tree wood but it is not sure.



The staircase became a major concern for the Loretto Sisters because when the chapel was almost complete, the architect ProjectusMouly unexpectedly died in 1879 without building a staircase to the choir loft and though the Sisters consulted several builders nobody came forward because of the constricted space and confined quarters.

It is at this juncture the Sisters got the idea of praying to the master carpenter Saint Joseph who after all took care of the Creator of the world with what he earned from the hard work in his carpentry shop. They started a novena to him and at the ninth day of the novena prayers a stranger came to the Sisters and offered to build the staircase.

Working in seclusion the new carpenter built the spiral staircase and disappeared from there before the Sisters could learn about his identity and whereabouts and to this day the Sisters and the people believe it was indeed Saint Joseph the Worker whose feast Pope Pius XII instituted in 1955.



Many experts have scrutinized this miraculous staircase and they are all at a loss to explain how it was made possible in those days using simple tools when it is almost impossible even today to create one such with all the modern carpentry tools that work on electricity. No nails used, the staircase is held together with wooden pegs and glue.

Wondering at the astounding work Tim Carter wrote in Washington Post:"It's a magnificent work of art that humbles me as a master carpenter. To create a staircase like these using modern tools would be a feat. It's mind-boggling to think about constructing such a marvel with crude hand tools, no electricity and minimal resources."

It is this inscrutable nature of the staircase that makes it a definite miraculous carpentry by the carpenter from Nazareth that reminds all of us on this Workers Day that every work of the humble workers is what creates the daily miracle in different parts of the world. The food we eat is the fruit of the work of the ordinary farmers but often we forget about them. So the spiral stair of New Mexico is a reminder about such workers and their neglected miracles.



Today the chapel is a museum and wedding chapel appropriately so because Saint Joseph is the patron of families who took care of the Holy Family of Nazareth. The chapel and its staircase that has become a great subject of analysis and scrutiny, now attracts thousands of tourists to Santa Fe. The more people analyze it, the more mysterious and inscrutable the staircase becomes.

Even if people are pouring into the Loretto Chapel as tourists, without any doubt it advances the popularity of Saint Joseph the Carpenter and with tourist interest their faith in him grows side by side. The spiral staircase, therefore, holds a pilgrim’s call and the Saint Joseph hidden in the stair is gradually converting the place into an indirect pilgrimage Centre as well.



The staircase that has found a place in the book Mysterious New Mexico by Ben Radford has a quote from a professional carpenter: "The execution is just incredible. The theory of how to do it, to bend it around in a two-turn spiral, that's some difficult arithmetic there."

It is this incredible nature of the staircase that holds the key for an incredible pilgrimage centre that may probably develop into one of the most crowded pilgrim spots of Saint Joseph the Worker for the future May Day.

(Joe Palathunkal is Associate Editor, Living in Faith)

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