Souvenir Rosaries: Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe, New Mexico

6 Jul


When attempting to determine the age or origin of a rosary, it is best to begin by examining the center medal. Center medals usually give the best clues because they are rarely replaced and are representative of the time period in which the rosary was made.


The center medal of the rosary pictured above shows that it is a souvenir of the Loretto Chapel in Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA. The full color picture in the center medal shows that it has been made recently, perhaps between 1990 and the present.

The Loretto Chapel, also known as Our Lady of Light Chapel, is considered to be the first gothic structure west of the Mississippi River. It was built by the Sisters of Loretto in 1877. Upon completion the sisters discovered that the builders had neglected to construct a staircase for access to the choir loft. According to legend, the sisters sought a solution by making a novena to St. Joseph, the patron saint of carpenters. On the ninth and final day of their prayer, a man seeking work appeared at their door and agreed to build the staircase they needed. When it was finished, the man mysteriously left before the sisters could pay him.



The identify of the mysterious builder has never been confirmed. In the 1970s, Oscar Hadweiber announced that the staircase had been built by his grandfather, John Hadweiber. When many questioned his claim, Oscar went to his grandfather’s attic and brought forth a tool kit and a plan of the spiral staircase which had the exact number of steps as the one in the Loretto Chapel. Unfortunately Oscar Hadweiber died in 1980 before his assertions could be authenticated.

A similar story was told in the 1963 film, Lilies of the Field starring Sidney Poitier. The film, based on the novel by James Poe, tells the story of an itinerant worker who built a chapel for a group of nuns in exchange for room and board.


The completed staircase is a work of great craftsmanship. It has two 360 degree turns and no visible means of support. It is said that it was built with wooden pegs rather than nails.


The center medal of the Loretto Chapel rosary has a color picture of the staircase.

The reverse of the center medal has the simple words, “Pray for us”.

The center medal of the Loretto Chapel rosary reminds collectors of the shrine and the story of the staircase.
To learn more about unique rosaries, read The Rosary Collector’s Guide by Gloria Brady Hoffner and Helen Hoffner. This 152 page hardcover reference book has 240 color photographs of rosaries, crosses, crucifixes, and center medals. It is available on, Barnes and, the Catholic Faith Store Online, and other websites, book stores, and religious article stores.

Helen Hoffner and Gloria Brady Hoffner, authors of The Rosary Collector’s Guide, are often able to bring their extensive collection of rosaries to show to church groups, school groups, and community organizations. To arrange a presentation or if you have a question about rosaries, contact them at



One Response to “Souvenir Rosaries: Loretto Chapel, Santa Fe, New Mexico”

  1. geralynarango July 6, 2014 at 3:04 PM #

    I love the story of the Loretto Chapel, and visited there when I lived in New Mexico. I hope they never authenticate the builder! Thanks for this connection to rosaries.


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