Posted by: Omar C. Garcia | May 20, 2012

The Mysterious Carpenter

Santa Fe, New Mexico

I have visited Santa Fe several times over the past thirty years. Over those years I have also visited cities in almost forty countries around the globe — so when I tell others that Santa Fe is one of my very favorite cities I really mean it. There is so much history in this old city founded in 1610 at the foot of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. I especially love the old churches throughout the area. This morning, Dad and I decided to worship at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis of Assisi, founded in 1610 and situated in the heart of the city. Although I am not Catholic, I enjoyed the experience of worshiping with local folks as well as visitors from around the world. The music was fabulous and the message from the first chapter of Acts was actually quite good and very challenging. Unlike other old cathedrals-turned-museums that I have visited in other countries, the Cathedral Basilica is full of life and seeking to engage its community for the glory of God.

After worship, Dad and I walked over to Loretto Chapel, an old church with a fascinating history. A design flaw was discovered when the chapel was nearing completion in 1878 — there was no way to get from the chapel floor to the choir loft. The Sisters of Loretto consulted local carpenters but, because of the height of the loft, they each concluded that a conventional staircase would take up too much room in the chapel below. Using a ladder or rebuilding the balcony seemed the only options, both unsatisfactory solutions. So, the Sisters of Loretto spent several days in prayer, seeking divine guidance. According to legend, a mysterious carpenter arrived on the final day of their prayer vigil. The only tools he had with him were a saw, a carpenter’s square, a hammer, and some tubs in which to soak wood. This carpenter designed and built a circular staircase to the choir loft. The staircase has 33 steps and rises 20-feet in two full 360-degree turns with no visible means of support. It is held together by a system of square wooden pegs. It took this mysterious carpenter six-months to build the staircase and then he vanished without pay when he had finished his work.

The staircase is a marvel to behold. It is indeed a thing of beauty that confounds architects, engineers, and craftsmen to this day. But what I find even more beautiful is the fact that a man arrived in answer to prayer, performed an incredible act of kindness without any want of recognition, and then vanished as mysteriously as he had arrived. To this day no one knows the identity of the carpenter. Because the Sisters of Loretto had dedicated the construction of the chapel to their patron saint, Saint Joseph the Carpenter, some believe that it was Joseph who had come to answer their prayers. Theories and speculation aside, one thing is certain — an unselfish act of kindness and generosity by a mysterious carpenter continues to inspire awe and wonder. And because the carpenter wanted no recognition for himself, people through the years have given glory to God for the wondrous spiral staircase in Loretto Chapel. This is at least one of many good lessons we can glean from the story of the mysterious carpenter. Imagine what a better world this would be if we all did just one anonymous act of kindness.


  1. What an incredible story … thank you so much for sharing it.

    • It really is a cool story. If you are ever in Santa Fe it’s worth taking the time to see the staircase. Saludos y bendiciones.

  2. Hi Omar!
    We visited Santa Fe and that very chapel about 6 years ago. Thank you for having us consider how we can bring blessing, too!
    Love you and miss you, Omar. We’re praying for you!

    • Thanks for following our journey, Jill. Love and appreciate you and your family. Thanks for your encouragement.

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