A Christmas pilgrimage & a staircase

A Christmas pilgrimage & a staircase


Mary Jo Anderson reflects on Christmas a time of spiritual pilgrimage, usually an interior journey of faith and trust in God’s providence that mirrors the real journey of the Holy Family and the shepherds and the Wise Men to Bethlehem.

Pilgrimages are an ancient form of devotion to some manifestation of God’s providence. Among the more famous pilgrimage sites for Catholics are Jerusalem and Bethlehem, Santiago de Compostela, Lourdes, Fatima. Each represents a unique place and moment in history when God revealed His work to those with the faith to “see.” This seeing with the eyes of faith is part of the pilgrimage experience — that is, one makes a physical journey in hopes of touching and experiencing the temporal place where heaven entered our world. But it is never the physical contact alone that true pilgrims seek. Rather, that physical reality reflects what the heart already knows: Only those who believe will see heaven at work.


She closes with an illustration of the idea using the miraculous staircase at Loretto chapel in New Mexico. According to legend, the sisters who’d commissioned the chapel needed a staircase to the choir loft but could find no one who could do the job without wrecking the chapel or building it on the exterior. Thus the sisters prayed a novena to St. Joseph after which a stranger arrived, offered to build it, created an amazing architectural wonder, and disappeared. While many see a miracle, others seek to debunk such legends. But Mary Jo insists that such arguments miss the point because what matters is that the sisters’ prayers and trust in God were indeed answered and rewarded.


For pilgrims willing to look for God, His providence is clearly seen in this chapel, and at other revered sites. One might as well say that Joseph and Mary experienced nothing unusual when the Magi arrived in Bethlehem with coffers of valuables that provided the means for the Holy Family to escape to Egypt in advance of Herod’s murderous rage.



p style="font-style: italic;font-size: 8px;">Photo credit: karol m at Wikimedia Commons. Used under a Creative Commons license.


  • “…what matters is that the sisters’ prayers and trust in God were indeed answered and rewarded.” Of course that is the whole point!
    I saw that staircase years ago. It is a beautiful work. At that time the chapel was still in use by the Sisters of Loretto, and the Blessed Sacrament was present. One of the older sisters acted as a guide, we wouldn’t have dared to act in a less than reverent way! I have heard that the sisters no longer use the chapel, it is now more of a museum. The number of tourists simply became to great and too distracting; they now have another chapel for their private use. I find it sad to think that the sense of “holy ground” is now not so much present.

  • Uh-oh: snopes.com has a page with reasons to think that the staircase isn’t all that wondrous:

    Also, the Wikipedia article on the Loretto Chapel cites a historian’s research that may have identified the real artisan.

    Sad to say, the old girls’ academy is gone; the chapel is owned by a neighboring hotel, and they rent it to anyone, including an “independent Catholic” sect with lady priests.

    I guess under the circumstances it’ll be a relief to know that St. Joseph didn’t do the job himself.

  • OK, I think you misread the last part of my blog post as well as the original article.

    The whole point is that it doesn’t matter that the staircase was not built by a physical manifestation of St. Joseph or that its construction is not really a mystery.

    The miracle is that the sisters had their prayers answered.