In 1852 the Sisters of Loretto responded to a plea from the Bishop of Santa Fe. His plea was for priests, brothers and nuns to preach and teach. The nuns opened the Academy of Our Lady of Light (Loretto) in 1853. It was decided that the Academy needed a chapel. In 1873, work began on Loretto Chapel. The stained glass journeyed from DuBois studio in Paris and made its journey to New Orleans by sailing vessel, and then by paddle boat to St. Louis MO. It was then taken by covered wagon over the old Santa Fe Trail to the Loretto Chapel.
When the chapel was built, it had no staircase. The sisters prayed a Novena for 9 days, and on the ninth day their prayers were answered. A workman appeared outside with a burro laden with carpenter tools. He announced he could provide a suitable means of access to the loft, requiring only permission and a couple of water tubs to soak the wood in. When the staircase was finished, the sisters were overjoyed and planned to honor the carpenter, but he could not be found. No one knew where he lived. Nearby lumber yards had sold him no wood. Surely, said the devout, it was St. Joseph himself who had built the stairs.
The miraculous staircase, was built sometime between 1877 and 1881. It has two complete 360 degree turns, with no visible means of support. It rests solely on its base and against the choir loft. It has 33 steps, all the same height. It is constructed with some extinct wood species, and is held together with only square wooden pegs, without glue.