Santa Fe, NM - St. Francis Cathedral
You can't, or at least shouldn't, visit Santa Fe without stepping inside of at least one of the town's beautiful old churches. The most prominent is St. Francis Cathedral, located just one block east of the town square, at the end of W. San Francisco St.
In 2005, Pope Benedict XVI declared the cathedral a Basilica, an honor given to very few Catholic churches around the world, based on historical importance, antiquity, and the artwork contained inside. The church certainly ranks high in historical significance: the parish was formed in 1610, ten years before the pilgrims landed in New England.
As for the current cathedral, it was built between 1869 and 1884.
St. Francis Cathedral is one of the few buildings in Santa Fe not constructed of adobe. Local rules require every building in the city to either be made of, or covered with adobe. While St. Francis has a stone facade, the attached Conquistadora Chapel is made of adobe--it was built in 1714.
In the courtyard in front of the church, you'll find several statues, including this one, entitled St. Francis of Assisi Dancing On Water. This statue was created by a Santa Fe artist, and is relatively new, dedicated in 2004.
A closer look at the statue reveals many different inscribed messages.
There's also an more accurate depiction of St. Francis, standing in front of the cathedral.
St. Francis Cathedral is beautiful inside. Unless they're holding a mass, you're free to go inside and walk around (so long as you're quiet and respectful).
... the baptismal...
... and a smaller chapel, that branches off to the side of the sanctuary.
As you leave St. Francis Cathedral, walk down Water Street to Old Santa Fe Trail. You'll see the steeple of the Loretto Chapel over a wooden fence.
At the entrance, you'll find this carving depicting Jesus (or some other mysterious carpenter), hard at work on the staircase.
While the Loretto Chapel is still a holy place, it feels more like a tourist attraction than a spiritual one. There is an admission fee (the chapel's website doesn't specify how much, but if I remember correctly, it was $2.50 for an adult). Once inside, an audio tape plays over and over again, explaining the mystery surrounding the staircase--making it a bit difficult to sit in silent prayer or reflection.
As the legend goes: The Loretto Chapel was built between 1873 and 1878. As was common at the time, there were no stairs to the choir loft. Since the choirs at most churches were all male, the men could use a ladder to reach the loft. However, the choir here was made up of nuns, who couldn't climb a ladder for reasons of modesty.
So, the nuns prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. Within days, a mysterious man showed up with a donkey and a few tools, looking for work. They put him to work on the staircase, however, he wanted total privacy, and disappeared when anyone else entered the chapel. Using a saw, a square, and some tubs of water (to shape the wood), the carpenter built this incredible spiral staircase. When the job was complete, and the nuns tried to find him to pay him, he was gone. Adding to the mystery, no one ever saw wood delivered to the chapel, and local lumber yards sold no wood to the mystery man. Oh, and did I mention the staircase has 33 steps, the same as Jesus' age at the crucifixion?
The reason this staircase continues to baffle carpenters and engineers to this day has nothing to do with the legend of its builder. They're amazed simply by its seemingly absent support system. Most spiral staircases require support from either a nearby wall, or a central post. The Loretto Staircase has neither (except for one small connection to one of the choir loft's support posts, which it would seem, provides little structural strength). Visitors are not allowed to climb the staircase, however reports from those who have say that the stairs feel a bit "springy". No surprise there.
Also worth mentioning: the original staircase did not have handrails, they were added later. So, if you theorized that the railings are somehow responsible for the stairs' stability, you're wrong.
Skeptical Inquirer magazine took a closer look at the staircase. While they don't believe they found evidence of a miracle, they do outline many interesting facts about its construction.
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