Loretto Chapel
219 Old Santa Fe Trail
The world-famous stone chapel of the Sisters of Loretto, known as "The Chapel of Our Lady of Light," was constructed as part of Archbishop Jean Baptiste Lamy's ambitious church building project that culminated in St. Francis Cathedral. Loretto Chapel was designed to serve the spiritual needs of the nuns and students of the academy for girls that had been founded in January 1853, shortly after Bishop Lamy had brought six sisters of the Order of Loretto to New Mexico.

Bishop Lamy turned over his own two-story adobe residence for the sisters' use, and their first chapel was located there. From 1859 to 1863 the Order acquired the large block of land on which their school, convent, and chapel were finally located. During the Confederate invasion of 1862, the nuns feared for the safety of their charges, and Bishop Lamy appealed to the military commander and secured protection of the institution.

Under the direction of the younger member of a French father-and-son team named Mouly, masons began cutting the stone on January 19, 1874. After many interruptions, the delicately proportioned Gothic Revival chapel, with its rose window, was blessed by Vicar-General Peter Eguillon on April 25, 1878. The ten-foot-high iron statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was placed on the pinnacle of the building ten years later. The Gothic Revival altar and communion railing were made in Italy around the turn-of-the-century and are of carved wood painted to resemble white marble.

When the chapel was completed, there was no means of ascending to the choir loft, since the workmen felt that there was insufficient room to build a safe staircase. The sisters sought someone who could devise a stairway. Shortly thereafter, a carpenter appeared and constructed the famous circular staircase, built without nails or other visible means of support. He then disappeared without waiting to be paid. Legend has persisted that it was the work of St. Joseph, the carpenter saint. One of the several European artisans living in Santa Fe at the time may have been the unknown carpenter, but recent information strongly suggests the possibility that the craftsman was Johann Hadwiger, an Austrian immigrant who had heard of the sisters' guest while visiting his son in a Colorado mining camp. The "miraculous" nature of the staircase is in no way dimmed by the probability of human construction.

The extensive property of the Sisters of Loretto was sold in 1971 for commercial development. The chapel has been maintained as a historic site by its owners, The Inn at Loretto.


ln 1982, through the diligent efforts of organist Mary J. Straw and with assistance from the Foundation, the chapel's harmonium was restored and returned to its historic place in the choir loft. This keyboard instrument, whose sound is produced when metal reeds are vibrated by air forced from the two pedal-operated bellows, was made in 1867 by Alexandre François Debain of Paris who held the title, "lnventeur de l'Harmonium." Above the expression knob is an engraved brass plaque stating, "For Bishop Lamy, Santa-Fé, New-Mexico."