A Gravity-Defying Staircase?

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Hugh Mungus's picture

Rain deluged the chalky desert street. Hard-packed caliche beneath the soil kept the water from dissipating.

Tendrils of arc lightning fanned out across a sky exhibiting more colors than an Italian Renaissance painting.

Wrapped in gossamer linens, a lone figure stole toward a modest church in the center of town.

In the distance, the thunder of wild horses could be heard. Somewhere, a lone coyote ensnared a less agile creature.

Reaching the cathedral, the mysterious stranger raised a gnarled fist the size of a mountain lion skull, and pounded on the ample wooden door before him.

No answer.

Given the extreme conditions, the drifter was obviously patient, and didn't make a second attempt for another minute.

Light emitted from the furthest window of the sanctuary, flickering as it carved a path to the building's front entrance. Bulky, metal locks released. On crackling hinges, the wooden door opened, exposing the softened face of a nun.

"May I help you?"

The stranger stepped into the moonlight, illuminating features constructed of Sun-dried leather. "I've come for the staircase."

Perplexed, the woman responded, "I-- I'm sorry. I don't understand. The staircase?"


The nun's mind raced. "Here?" The woman motioned to the sanctuary around her.


Nonplussed, the sister's brow furrowed. "Well, I'm sorry. You must be misinformed. We have no staircase at Loretto Chapel."


The woman shook her head.

"Have you have any warm water?"

Confused, the nun assumed the stranger was seeking a bath and perhaps shelter for the evening.

"Why, yes."

From a rough-hewn satchel, the withered traveler produced a carpenter's square, hammer and saw. "Then in three months, you shall have a staircase."

Santa Fe, New Mexico, a scenic art community rich in history, but also a paranormal hotspot.

The more enigmatic past of the state's capital includes La Llarona, or the Legend of the Weeping Woman, in which a shrieking female entity searches the rivers of the southwest for her lost children, whom she drowned whilst alive.

The Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi, an exquisite cathedral dedicated to a man claimed to have been the first stigmatic in recorded history.

San Miguel Mission, the oldest working church in the country, and according to several employees, a venue rife with paranormal activity.

One of the most ancient houses in the nation, once home to a pair of witches, now reportedly the residence of a malevolent entity.

The lavish La Posada Hotel, originally a private address, now claimed to be the dwelling place of Julia Staab, the home's long-dead owner, who reportedly manifests herself to employees and guests, alike.

La Plazuela dining room, abode to the agonized spirit of a salesman who reportedly leapt to his death down a well once located in the center of the room.

Without question, Santa Fe, New Mexico, is a paranormal investigator's paradise. Take, for instance, Loretto Chapel, an exquisite church of antiquity nestled in the heart of the capital city. Inside Loretto awaits a staircase which, according to certain sources, defies gravity. So popular have the stairs of Loretto become, this masterpiece of craftsmanship has been featured on the well-known television shows National Geographic, Ripley's Believe It or Not and Unsolved Mysteries.

Termed the Miraculous Staircase, this perplexing set of steps winds around itself twice in consecutive 360-degree turns. Since the stairwell at Loretto possesses no center support, many claim the swirling steps oppose the known laws of gravity. Just as compelling as the stairway, though, is the legend behind the architectural marvel's construction.

The chapel at Loretto was near completion around 1878, but somehow a staircase to the second story choir loft hadn't been factored into the plans.

A stairwell of then-standard size would have proven far too large for the little church. Requiring a method to reach the choir loft, the sisters of Loretto prayed to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters, over a period of nine straight days.

Following the conclusion of the ministry's novena, a gray-bearded stranger appeared at the door of the cathedral, informing the nuns he would build the staircase, but needed total privacy in which to accomplish the task.

Locking himself in the chapel for three months, using only a handful of primitive tools, including a carpenter's square, a saw, a hammer and some warm water, the mysterious man constructed a spiral staircase made entirely of wood non-native to New Mexico.

From whence the lumber was procured remains another mystery, as the sisters of Loretto never witnessed the architect leave the church during his 90 day labor of construction. During that time, the nuns hadn't observed a delivery of any sort to their beloved chapel.

The fact that no nails are employed in the creation of the staircase seems incomprehensible, when considering up to 20 adults have stood simultaneously on this curiosity.

The identity of the carpenter in question remains a mystery, as well. Upon completion of his task, he departed, never seeking compensation for his efforts, and never being heard from again.

The stairway at Loretto Chapel stands 20 feet high, comprising 33 individual steps, the same number of years Jesus Christ purportedly walked the Earth.

Open to the public seven days a week, admission to view the enigmatic staircase is nominal.

Hugh Mungus

© 2011. Hugh Mungus

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