The Carpenter and the Staircase

Have you had a good Christmas?  At our house, we’ve been celebrating the birth of God’s son and our Savior, Jesus.  How amazing it is to think that, for reasons I can’t understand, the Creator of the universe loved me — and you — enough to send His only son into our fallen world of humanity … and in the form of an innocent, dependent child no less.
I always marvel at who God chose to be His son’s earthly parents; a young girl and a carpenter. God must have seen really special hearts in those two.  Hearts that were both compassionate and strong.  Hearts that could recognize miracles while providing earthly love and protection … yet could endure danger and gossip and immeasurable pain.  Just a young girl and a carpenter … Mary and Joseph.
While in Santa Fe on a recent trip, I heard the story of another carpenter.  I was visiting the Loretto Chapel, a beautiful old Gothic-inspired chapel that sits at the end of the Old Santa Fe Trail. Patterned after King Louis IX’s Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, the Loretto Chapel was completed in 1878 and served as the place of worship for the Academy of our Lady of Light (established by the Sisters of Loretto in 1853).

Although the Academy closed in 1968, and the chapel is no longer consecrated by the Catholic church, Loretto Chapel remains open to the public as a private museum … still drawing worshipers from near and far.

Inside is a beautiful Gothic altar …



Stunning gilding …

frescoes …

and stained glass …

Purchased from a studio in Paris, the beautiful stained glass made its way from Paris to New Orleans by sailing ship … then to St. Louis, Missouri by paddle boat … finally making a long trek by covered wagon over the Old Santa Fe Trail.

But I was telling you about a carpenter, wasn’t I?
Well, amazing as is the story of the windows, it pales in comparison to the legend of the Miraculous Staircase.

As the story goes, Loretto Chapel was built with no access to the choir loft located 22 feet above. Upon consulting with local carpenters, the Sisters of the Chapel were told that the only solution was to build a ladder; any form of stairway would cause the loss of too much seating space.

Can you imagine climbing a 22 foot ladder wearing a nun’s habit?  Surely the Sisters couldn’t either, as they were simply unwilling to accept a ladder as the final solution.  Instead, they began praying a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters.

According to the legend, it was on the ninth and final day of prayer that a stranger arrived at the Chapel looking for work. He brought with him a donkey and a toolbox.

The man told the Sisters that if they would give him total privacy, he would build them a staircase.

Several months later, an elegantly-curved double helix-shaped staircase rose 20 feet above the ground floor of the Chapel.  Constructed using only primitive tools, wooden pegs, and water, the stairway made of non-native wood stood ready for use … with no apparent center support.  Nothing short of a miracle.

But before he could be paid or even thanked, the stranger-turned-carpenter disappeared.  His identity was never known. Legend says that perhaps it was St. Joseph himself who built the answer to the Sisters’ prayers.

As originally constructed, the elegantly-curved spiral staircase had no wall attachment and no railing.

Christmas season upon Christmas season has been celebrated in the presence of the beautiful staircase.  Unlike the unidentified carpenter in the legend, the name of Jesus, the carpenter’s son, has been proclaimed.

His miraculous birth to a virgin … and His sacrificial death over three decades later on a wooden cross.

But in my own life I see some similarities, too, between Jesus and the stranger in the legend. Like the carpenter, Jesus “shows up” when I pray … even though it may often seem like the 11th hour, when I’m about ready to give up.  He desires to meet my needs, just as the carpenter wanted to meet the Sisters’ need for a staircase.  Also like the carpenter in the legend, Jesus sees beyond a situation’s apparent limitations and limited resources … working in my life as the Master craftsman that He is to build function and purpose and beauty in a place life heart that was once only an empty void.
Whereas the mystery carpenter wanted privacy to do his work … not Jesus.  He wants me right beside Him, close enough to feel His heartbeat.  He wants my availability and cooperation.  He wants my Focus … not my leftovers.  He wants me to learn.  He wants me to find rest for my soul.  He wants the same for you …
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
Matthew 11:28-30


I’m joining Between Naps on the Porch for Metamorphosis Monday.


  1. I am so glad you showed the inside of the church. Thanks! When we went there, it was close so I only got to see outside. How beautiful, especially the miraculous spiral staircase….Chistine

  2. Oh this is so beautiful, both the stair case and the story. Thank you for sharing it with us and reminding us the wonder of God’s love for us! dee dee

  3. Susan — I have been here and can say it is truely amazing — love the story and the staircase 🙂


  4. This church is stunning! WOW thank you so much for sharing. Merry Christmas to you and your family.

  5. What a beautiful church ! Thank you for sharing it. The stairway is truely amazing ! Thank you for visiting my ” home tour ” and leaving a comment. I am finally returning the favor . I’m now your newest follower!

  6. This is a beautiful staircase; thank you for sharing the photos. Amazing what one man could build with such simple tools.

  7. Wow. Great post for Met Monday. Thanks. Many blessings.

  8. The best Christmas post!! Thanks for sharing and for your encouraging words! God Bless!

  9. Sally this is just beautiful from beginning to end..I need to say “Praise God” for giving you these wonderful truths to post.
    Thanks for sharing the staircase..thanks for pointing to our Savior. Just a beautiful post

    Thanks for getting the cards to Debbie..I was so blessed by your efforts and I see from her post she was also…Hugs!

  10. How amazing! I would love to visit this when we travel West next time! Hugs!