Stairway From Heaven

The "miracle0 spiral staircase graces the Sisters of Loretta convent chapel in Santa Fe, NM. It was built in the 1850s by a mysterious carpenter who arrived in answer to the sisters' prayers.

PHOTO COURTESY Of SASW)

Do you believe in miracles? Here's a woodworking "miracle" you can still see today.

In 1852, the Sisters of Loretta arrived in Santa Fe, NM, to found a convent. In a few years, they had a school built and were working on a grand Gothic chapel, complete with 85-ft. ceilings.

When the chapel was almost finished, the sisters realized there was no way to get up to the choir loft—the builders had completely forgotten to erect a staircase! And the loft was so high that a conventional stairway would take up too much floor space. The sisters consulted many carpenters, but no one had a suitable solution.

The Sisters of Loretta were quite concerned. But they also had great faith, so they decided to pray about the situation. While they were pray ing, the legend goes, a gray-haired man with a donkey came to visit. He asked the Mother Superior if they had any need for a stairway. She told him about their problem, and the old man took out his meager tools and set to work.

All over the sanctuary, the old carpenter set up tubs of water filled with pieces of soaking wood. By one account he worked very quickly; by another he labored for months. Whatever the case, when the stairway was done and the sisters went to pay the stranger, he was nowhere to be found.

No one knew where the carpenter had come from, or knew where he went. He had purchased no lumber locally. Yet he left behind a magnificent staircase—a circular gem with no center support—that still stands today.

Many people are amazed that the old stairway hasn't crashed down under the weight of the people who use it. Over the years architects and builders from around the world have come to inspect the stairway. It's been there for more than a century, in daily use.

The staircase has 33 steps and two 360° twists. Its curved stringers seem to be connected with great precision. The entire staircase contains no nails, only wooden pegs. Another wonderment is the origin of the wood itself—it doesn't appear to be native to New Mexico.

The "miracle staircase" still stands in the Lorctto Chapel for anyone to see. Whether or not you believe in miracles, the beauty and exceptional craftsmanship are indisputable. Thousands of people have tried to explain this marvel of craftsmanship, but there seems to be no answer.

—Grovrr Brinkman offcuts

Greg Harkins and Russian intern Dmitri Colikov collaborated to build this rustic settee.

f»IOTO OY CRIC IINSON

Rodger Don Wet>er demonstrates on his bowstring lathe at the American Woodworkfr ixxrth.

benefits) of foot-powered machinery.

Thousands of fairgoers stopped by to enjoy Weber's unique mix of humor and his tory, and to meet the AW staff. We gave out magazines and took in some helpful feedback and advice. We also combed the aisles for new products. To sec some of the

; latest products we came j across, check out the reviews j that begin on page 90.

If you have a news item, unusual story or opinion to { share, send it to: "OfTcuis," \ American Woodworker, 33 E. Minor St,, Emmaus, PA 18098.

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