Santa Fe, NM - 03/22/2012

Published at 10:57 PM in ,

The staircase in Loretto Chapel
Today we drove down into Santa Fe, New Mexico's capital city.  With the Sangre de Cristo mountains in the background, the city provided a beautiful view.  Sangre de Cristo translates from Spanish as "Blood of Christ."  Santa Fe is well known for its arts and culture, but history is woven all through the city also.

The Sangre de Cristo mountains

Our first stop was the Visitor's Center for more information on the downtown area.  They had a fantastic map that highlighted all of the top places to see.

The Chapel of San Miguel

Right next to the Visitor's Center was the Chapel of San Miguel.  This chapel is the oldest church in the country, having been built around 1610.  It was originally built to serve the poor, mostly Mexican and Indian, populations of the area.  It is currently undergoing restoration work, so we weren't able to tour the inside.

Loretto Chapel

Down the street from the Chapel of San Miguel is the Loretto Chapel.  This chapel was built in 1878 to serve the Sisters of Loretto who had established a girls' school, and was modeled after King Louie IX's chapel in Paris.  The inside of the chapel is beautiful, and although it is not an actively used parish today, the chapel is a museum and site for numerous events including weddings.

A view from a wooden scale model of the staircase
What makes this chapel so special, though, is its 'miraculous' staircase.  The Sisters of Loretto needed a staircase built to provide more room in the chapel through a loft.  They were having trouble finding a carpenter that could do the job.  The Sisters made a novena to St. Joseph, patron saint of carpenters. On the final day of the novena, a man appeared looking for work and said he would build it.  After a few months of work, the staircase was complete, but the builder disappeared without pay or thanks.  The Sisters, and many still today, believe it was St. Joseph that appeared and built the magnificent staircase.

Perhaps the most miraculous part of the staircase is the physics of its construction, portions of which are still not understood today.  The staircase makes two complete 360 degree turns, but has no visible means of support - meaning  there isn't a central support beam or pole like you would see on most spiral staircases.  There also aren't any nails in the staircase, only wooden pegs, although nails would have been hard to come by in those days.  The wood used in its construction has never been definitively identified, either.  It is known to be some sort of spruce, but its true identity hasn't been matched, so the spruce's origins during the 1800s is still a mystery.  What type of spruce would have been available then that isn't still available today in the Santa Fe area?

Snopes.com tries to discredit the miraculous aspects of this work of art.  However, most of their information cannot be proven, such as their belief as to who the carpenter really was.  I personally believe in the miraculous nature of this staircase.  The iron side supports you see today were added much later to provide additional support - after all, it is over 150 years old!

The Zia sun symbol and the state seal in the rotunda

After the Loretto Chapel, we went to the state capitol building, known as the Roundhouse.  This year, New Mexico, like Arizona, is celebrating its 100th year anniversary of its statehood.  Santa Fe is the oldest capital city, of any state or territory, in the country, with its history as a capital dating back to 1610.  Its capitol building, dedicated in 1966, is the only round capitol in the country.  Its round design incorporates the Zia sun symbol, also found on the state flag.  One noteworthy feature of the capitol is its art collection.  It houses over $6 million in artwork!  That's quite a collection!

Mrs. Anna Serrano
Although it was close to closing time, we went up to the floor where the Governor's office is located. The reception area has the Governor's Gallery, which currently displays a collection of maps of New Mexico from the early days of exploration through its statehood in 1912.  The administrator at the desk in the reception area was Mrs. Anna Serrano.  She shared a wealth of information about New Mexico with us, and took us on a behind-the-scenes tour of the Governor's offices.  We got to go in the room where the cabinet meets, and we even got to take pictures in there.

Rachael and a picture of Governor Martinez
Mrs. Serrano was very helpful in explaining the purpose and importance of the cabinet.  She also told us the the Governor, Susana Martinez, is the first female governor of New Mexico, and the first Latina governor in the country.  She is history-in-the making!  What a wonderful example for Rachael, our future president, that she can make her dreams come true.  Women can work hard and be anything they want in life.

At least he keeps us entertained!

After we finished in the governor's office, we took a leisurely walk through the capitol admiring the artwork.  You can see Michael really got into it.  Ahem.

All of these places made for a busy, full day in Santa Fe (hey it rhymes!).  Tomorrow we are headed up to Chimayo and Los Alamos.  It will be our final day in New Mexico!!

More pictures in the Photo Gallery!

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