Monday, January 28, 2013

San Jose Bell and the Loretto Staircase

New Mexico Fairytales, my first book of modern fairytales inspired by the states along old Route 66, touches on wonders and mysteries of two religious sites in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

First up: San Miguel Mission and the San Jose Bell. Featured in short story Mission Bell.

San Miguel Mission is, according to many, the oldest church in the US still in operation. There are other religious sites in the country that would debate that, but we won't get into that here. What is generally accepted as fact, is that the mission was built in the 1600s, before Plymouth colony was established on the Atlantic coast and just after the founding of Jamestown. Visit the mission today, and you can see places in the floor where archaeologists excavated down to the original adobe steps.

The mission is named for Saint Michael, one of the two (or three) recognized archangels of Christian faith. The other commonly recognized archangel is Saint Gabriel. Depending on the denomination, some recognize Raphael as holding the same status as Michael and Gabriel.

If you count the shepherds in the short stories of New Mexico Fairytales, you'll note there are three. One gives his name in Mission Bell, after he leaves the spot outside San Miguel Mission where he's been sitting and waiting; another has her name announced in Last Light. As for the third...well, I guess his name is what you will believe it to be.

The mission is dedicated to Saint Michael, but the bell inside is the San Jose Bell, cast to honor Saint Joseph. There are different opinions about the origin of the bell. Some say it was cast in the 1300s in Spain, made out of metal donated by villagers to celebrate military victory and thank their saint. I've heard others say the bell was cast in the 1800s in the United States. They claim the date in the bell's inscription was changed to boost tourism. Certainly when you look at the bell in person, there's a number there that could be read 3 or 8. For my short story, I pulled inspiration from the 1300s origin tale.

Here is a brief video clip showing the mission and the bell. Look closely at the wood posts supporting the bell, and you'll see the silver prayer symbols featured in the short story.

There's another legend about the San Jose Bell. They say if you ring it, you will come back to Santa Fe. Which explains why I keep going back there. That, or I'm addicted to the chocolate elixirs at Kakawa. Maybe it's both. San Miguel Mission and Kakawa sit at either end of the little side street called Burro Alley, so there is a clear connection.

Second religious site: Loretto Chapel and its miraculous staircase. Mentioned in short story Last Light.

The following video clip from Unsolved Mysteries does an excellent job explaining the mystery and wonder of the staircase. I'll make a couple of points then leave you to watch the video.

First, the staircase today (and as it's shown in reenactment scenes in the video) is notably different from its early days. In the video, you can see a decorative support connecting the staircase to a nearby column. That's a later addition to the staircase. So is the banister running with the stairs. In the beginning, the staircase had no railing and was entirely unsupported. Imagine walking two full turns up that. Some of the nuns and school girls got dizzy on that walk, and who can blame them.

Second, don't visit Loretto Chapel and anticipate taking your own walk up and down the stairs. They're closed to the public. The only time non-employees are allowed on the stairs, are when weddings are held in the chapel. Even then, only the bride and groom get to make the trip...partway, for one photo. Still, it's worth a visit to Loretto, just to see the wonder.

Hope you enjoy this slice of history and legend.


PS - There are other fascinating sites of religion and history in Santa Fe. We'll visit those together in Book 5 of the Undead Bar Association Series. So yes, there's more New Mexico to come.

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