The Inexplicable Stairway to Heaven

As the legend goes, when the chapel was built without stairs up to the choir loft. Monks used ladders, but since this chapel was for nuns, a staircase was needed. Conventional stairs would take up nearly half the space in the little chapel, so the nuns decided to pray a novena for some divine assistance. On the ninth (and final) day of the devotion, a mysterious man with a few simple tools appeared and informed the sisters that he could fashion a suitable staircase, but he must be left completely alone. Locked in the chapel for three days, he finished the stairs and disappeared without asking for pay. Nobody knew who he was or where he went, so naturally …CONTINUE READING >>

Nothing
says southwest like Santa Fe. The combo of scenic mountains
and mesas with the native Pueblo, Spanish and cowboy cultures
defines this quadrant of the country.

The
area was claimed as the “Kingdom of New Mexico”
by Francisco Vásquez de

Coronado for Spain in 1540.
By the early 1600s La Villa Real de la Santa Fé de
San Francisco de Asís, the Royal Village of the Holy
Faith of St. Francis of Assisi, was
founded and became Spain’s provincial capitol for the region.

The city kept its status as capital through Mexican independence
and then statehood.

Santa Fe, New Mexico

The
recommended starting point for a big dose of Santa Fe flavor
is the Plaza, so naturally that’s where we headed. This
is a classic colonial town square. A small park with the
usual benches,
trees, monuments and gazebo, surrounded by centuries old historic
buildings.

The Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico

We
started at the original Palace of the Governors, which occupies
an entire side of the Plaza. The palace is the oldest public
building in the US, dating back to 1610.

By most standards,
this sprawling one story adobe residence would hardly qualify
as a palace, but
back in the 1600s in the frontier desert, it was the finest accommodation
for hundreds of miles in any direction. Today it serves as a market
place for native jewelry and artwork.

The Plaza in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Walking
the perimeter of the square is an easy stroll so we continued
along the Plaza’s other three sides. Traditional crap shops
mingle with high-end galleries, hotels and boutiques. In
the structures where Conquistadors
and cowboys once shook off the trail dust, now tourists shop for
designer clothes and Jackalopes.

The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis in Santa Fe, New Mexico

Looming
over the Plaza, The Cathedral Basilica of Saint Francis
of Assisi has stood since the 1870s, but a church has occupied
this spot from the earliest days of Santa Fe.

Walking up
to the church we felt like we somehow warp traveled across
the Atlantic
into a European village.

The
French-born Archbishop Lamy intentionally had the Cathedral
built in Romanesque Revival style so that it would stand
out from the surrounding adobe buildings. He was highly
successful in his attempt. In what seems to have been a
huge event, on October
4, 2005 Pope Benedict XVI elevated the cathedral to basilica status.
We don’t really know what difference that

makes to the church,
but it sounds pretty snazzy.

The Inexplicable Staircase of Santa Fe, New Mexico

While
we were in church exploration mode, we headed a few blocks
over to the Loretto Chapel. This is home to the famous
“Inexplicable Staircase.”

As
the legend goes, when the chapel was built without stairs
up to the choir loft. Monks used ladders, but since this
chapel was for nuns, a staircase was needed.

Conventional
stairs would take up nearly half the space in the little
chapel, so the nuns decided to pray a novena for some
divine assistance. On the ninth (and final) day of the
devotion, a mysterious man with a
few simple tools appeared and informed the sisters that he could
fashion a suitable staircase, but he must be left completely alone.

Locked in
the chapel for three days, he finished the stairs and disappeared
without asking for pay. Nobody knew who he was or where he went,
so naturally the nuns assumed that the carpenter was St. Joseph
sent in answer to their prayers. A miracle.

At the chapel,
which is privately owned these days, a recorded message plays
this story on a never ending loop. Celestial choirs rise to
a crescendo as the tale unfolds. Then our narrator adds to the
mystery by claiming that the design of the staircase defies
physics and that no one can explain its construction.

The
actual story is that the staircase was more terrifying
and dangerous than miraculous. So much so the nuns had
to crawl up and down it on their hands and knees until
a railing was added ten years later. The spiral design,
while very unique, still falls within the laws of nature.
There even seems to be some evidence that the sisters
knew who the carpenter was and kept a record of it. One
Francois-Jean “Frenchy” Rochas was actually
credited as the builder in his obituary. The legend of
St. Joseph appearing to the nuns didn’t crop up until decades
later. Of course now that this is a private business it pays to
keep the myth alive and we made these discoveries elsewhere.

Though the
reality may be somewhat less than mystical, the staircase is
truly

magical. The craftsmanship is superb and the finished
product absolutely beautiful. Both the original stairs and the
railing are gorgeous examples of fine woodworking, worth every
bit of the $2.50 entrance fee.

After our
believe-it-or-not experience, our minds turned to our bellies.
Imagine that!

Just
off the Plaza, in an historic pueblo adobe, we found Cafe
Pasqual’s. The casual cafe was named in honor of the patron
saint of Mexican and New Mexican kitchens and cooks. The
intimate little dining room seats a mere fifty folks,
but luckily we arrived early. Much of the seating is communal,
so we joined the big table in the middle of the room and
proceeded to get acquainted with our fellow guests.

As we are prone
to do, we stayed on the appetizer side of the menu.

The offerings
at Pasquale’s are inspired by the desert southwest and the chefs
try to use local ingredients whenever possible. But as our first
selection

showed, some bending of this rule is necessary, since
there are very few halibut swimming around in New Mexico.

The
Halibut Ceviche was marvelous, and considering how well
it was matched with lemongrass, avocado, jalapeños,
cucumber, tomato, and crispy tortilla triangles, maybe
some of those halibuts should consider swimming up the
Rio Grande.

My
Tacos Barbacoa featured famous Niman
Ranch beef and Chile d’ Arbol Salsa. The Niman Ranch began
near San Francisco, but now is a network of sustainable natural
meat producers all over the country. And yes, non hormone and
antibiotic laced meat does taste better.

We
continued our crawl through the menu with Pigs & Figs.
Veronica can’t resist anything figgy, even if it is piggy.
This tasty treat is pretty much what it sounds like, sweet
figs wrapped in Applewood smoked bacon. Sweet and salty…
delicious! The cloaked little
Newton fillers came on a bed of mizuna greens with balsamic vinaigrette,
and topped with cabrales, the Spanish version of blue cheese.
We
also gave the tamale a try. A little bit of Caribbean
meets New Mexican, since the corn meal masa stuffed with
green chili and Jack cheese is wrapped in a banana leaf
as opposed to the traditional corn husk.

The only
item that we tried in our prowl through Cafe Pasquale’s appetizer
menu that wasn’t stellar was the Caesar Salad. The attempt to
make it

unique was a swing and a miss as far as we were concerned.
Dressing poured over whole Romaine leaves with crispy baked
Parmesan on the side wasn’t bad, but didn’t hold up in comparison
to some of the jammin’ Caesars we’ve experienced elsewhere.
But it was more than made up for when the dessert platter arrived.

Every
bit of it was delectable, but the chocolate torte with
olive oil and sea salt was beyond believable. There’s
a lot of that going on today.

All
in all, a phenomenal evening of food and fun. The large
communal table allowed us to get to know some of the locals
and enjoy good
conversation while learning a little about Santa Fe.

Great tidbits like, only two cities in America can claim to be
older, San Juan, Puerto Rico and

St. Augustine, Florida. Albert
Einstein used to hang out in the Plaza while working on the atomic
bomb at nearby Los Alamos. Looney Tunes legend Chuck Jones came
up with The Roadrunner & Wile E. Coyote while living here.
Georgia O’Keeffe spent her later years living and working here
and the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum houses a huge collection of her
work.

All of this
combines to make Santa Fe one of America’s coolest cities. Even
better than Atchison or Topeka… we think.

David &
Veronica, GypsyNester.com


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12 thoughts on “The Inexplicable Stairway to Heaven”

  1. We love Santa Fe and the surrounding area, it’s such a special place. And the Loretto Chapel is probably one of my most favorite places ever. There is just something about the story of the staircase that captures my heart and imagination.

  2. I was lucky to live in New Mexico several times . Lunch at The Shed, looking at the galleries on Canyon Road and enjoying the natural beauty. Miss the green chile, blue corn tortillas and ristras. Oh, no, homesick now.

    1. Grew up in Southern Colorado (La Veta), and spent alot of time in New Mexico. That is the only area in the whole world that makes green chile right. It might be the best thing ever.

  3. Nice pics, you really captured the place. Found the ChocolateSmith a few months ago on our last trip to Santa Fe- absolutely superb! Since wonderful food is one of the great pleasures of Santa Fe, we often like to do an easy hike or two while we're there, to balance things out! If that sounds good, try the Chamisa Trail which is only 6 miles from the Plaza – link here: http://www.sdcmountainworks.com/hiking/trails.php. Nora (fittravelgirl on Twitter)

  4. I absolutely fell in love with Santa Fe when I was there a few years ago …. unfortunately I missed seeing the church.

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