Just for some background: when the chapel was built in 1878, there was no means for the choir to get to the loft that was 22 feet above. Carpenters concluded that they would have to install a ladder to fix the problem because constructing a staircase would affect the already small amount of space in the chapel.
According to legend, the Sisters of the Chapel made a novena to St. Joseph (the patron saint of carpenters) by praying for nine days. On the last day, a man showed up at the chapel and the miraculous staircase with no visible support was built a few months later. In addition to this architectural mystery, the identity of the carpenter who built the stairs is unknown. Some people believe that the man was St. Joseph.
How the staircase managed to stand without support has confounded experts, according to the website. But there was a Washington Post article I came across where a carpenter explains that it isn’t a miracle, but physics at work: even though there are no visible beams like you’d see in other staircases, they’ve just been twisted into a helix.
Regardless, the carpenter in the article does say that the staircase is something to admire, particularly because it was built during a time period with less advanced technology.
If you’d like to visit and witness the staircase up close and personal, there’s a $3 fee you’ll have to pay before entering. (Cash and card accepted.) Not a bad deal at all. I think it’s worth it to both see the miraculous stairs and to be inside the chapel, which today is a popular wedding venue.
Loretto Chapel is open daily from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and on Sundays from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
For more information about the Chapel, click here.