Santa Fe, NM USA 2013

     In November of 2013; Becky (my wife) and I took a Thanksgiving vacation in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

New Mexico area map

     While in Santa Fe, we visited the Pecos National Historical Park.  Pecos National Historical Park’s is located 27 km southeast of Santa Fe, New Mexico.  The main unit of the park preserves the ruins of Pecos Pueblo, also known historically as Cicuye.

Becky posing at the Pecos National Historical Park, (Cicuye ruins) in New Mexico

     The first Pecos pueblo was one of two dozen rock-and-mud villages built in the valley around AD 1100 in the prehistoric Pueblo II Era. Within 350 years the Pecos village had grown to house more than 2,000 people in its five-storied complex. Pecos was then visited by expeditionaries with Francisco Vásquez de Coronado in 1540. A Spanish mission church was built in 1619.  The main unit protects the remains of Mission Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Porciúncula de los Pecos, a Spanish mission near the pueblo.

a Kiva built near the Pecos Mission House

     A traditional kiva was built in front of the church during the Pueblo Revolt in 1680 as a rejection of the Christian religion brought by Spanish colonists.  However, when the Spanish returned in 1692, the Pecos community stayed on friendly terms with them and built another church.

From a sign at the site, an artist depiction of the Mission Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Porciúncula de los Pecos
The present status of the Mission Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Porciúncula de los Pecos

     The Pecos people enjoyed a rich culture with inventive architecture and beautiful crafts. They also possessed an elaborate religious life, evidenced by many ceremonial kivas.

From a sign at the site, an artist depiction of the Mission Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Porciúncula de los Pecos


The present status of the Mission Nuestra Señora de los Ángeles de Porciúncula de los Pecos

     Farming was a main part of their diet and staple crops included the usual beans, corn, and squash. Their location, power and ability to supply goods made the Pecos a major trade center in the eastern part of the Puebloan territory, connecting the Pueblos to the Plains cultures such as the Comanche.   The site was abandoned in 1838, after the Pecos population suffered from the marauding Comanches that they traded with.    

      Later, Becky and I  visited a the Loretto Chapel in the City of Santa Fé.   The Loretto Chapel has been a mystery of over 130 years. What makes this chapel different from all others is that the subject of the supposed miracle that took place in it is a staircase, (pictured below).  The Loretto Chapel was constructed in the 19th century. When it was ready, the nuns found that there was no staircase built to take them to the top level, where the choral sits.  The nuns spent 9 days praying to St. Joseph, who was a carpenter.  On the last day, a stranger knocked at their door and said that he was a carpenter who could help them build the staircase. The carpenter then constructed the staircase, all by himself, which was considered to be the pride of carpentery.  Nobody knew how the staircase could stand by itself as it did not have a central support. Then the carpenter, who did not use a single nail or glue to construct this staircase, disappeared without even waiting for his payment.  Lastly, from where did the wood come? They have checked and found out that the type of wood used to build the staircase does not exist in the entire region.

I’m sitting in front of the Miracle Staircase at the Loretto Chapel in Sante Fe, New Mexico

      The winding staircase is in the shape of a helix (which both takes up less space than a conventional stairway and is much more aesthetically appealing). Although winding staircases are somewhat tricky to build because the form is not well-suited to bearing weight and generally requires additional support, the one at Loretto is not quite the miracle of architecture that subsequent legend has made it out to be. It was originally built without a railing, presenting a steep descent that reportedly so frightened some of the nuns that they came down the stairway on their hands and knees. Moreover, the helix shape acted like what it resembles, a big spring without a central support. Many visitors reported, that the stairs moved up and down as they trod them. However, I noticed that the staircase does have a central support in disguise, an inner wood stringer of such small radius that it functions as an almost solid pole.  Additionally, the staircase consists of 33 steps and two complete turns of 360 degrees. Wooden pegs, rather than nails, were used throughout. As for the wood used in the stairway’s construction, it has been identified as hard spruce, but not a large enough sample has been made available for wood analysts to determine which of the ten spruce species found in North America it came from.  

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