A Romanesque Monastery in Florida

One would never expect to find a 900-year-old Romanesque monastery on the West Dixie Highway near Miami – but that is exactly what one would find on this secluded, not so easy to find, location – the monastery of Saint Bernard de Clairvaux.

The monastery was originally built in Sacramenia, Segovia in northern Spain in the 12th Century. When construction finished in 1141, it was dedicated to Mary, and was called “The Monastery of our Lady.” When Bernard of Clairvaux was canonized in 1174, the monastery was renamed in his honor. Bernard was a Cistercian monk, and the monastery was occupied by Cistercian monks for 700 years after that. In the 1830s, the cloisters were seized by the city for nonpayment of taxes and sold to a farmer who converted it into a granary and a stable.

Another 100 years later, in 1925, publishing tycoon William Randolph Hearst illegally purchased the monastery, for a cost of $500,000 with the intention of rebuilding it on his estate in California. He had it deconstructed stone by stone and each stone was numbered and wrapped in hay – a total of 11,000 crates were shipped to the US. Only the original church remained in Sacramenia where it stands to this day.

Santa Maria la Real de Sacramenia

By the time it arrived in the US, there was a hoof-and-mouth disease in northern Spain, and the entire shipment was quarantined. Moreover, the hay was burned to prevent the spread of disease in the US. When removing the hay, the workers neglected to put the stones back in the numbered boxes, which ultimately caused a great deal of expense and confusion when the monastery was reassembled.

Hearst fell into financial difficulties, and the disassembled stones lay in a warehouse in Brooklyn for the next 26 years. After his death in 1952, the entire shipment was purchased by two Florida entrepreneurs W. Edgemon and R. Moss who had everything shipped to Miami. There, the monastery was painstakingly assembled – the entire process took 19 months, and because of the mismatching, several stones remained from which a parish hall was built. The monastery was sold a few times after that, until 1964 when philanthropist Colonel Robert Pentland, Jr. bought it and donated it to the Southern Florida parish of St. Bernard of Clairvaux.

On another continent, 1000s of miles away from its birthplace, a long journey after being disassembled, and then being assembled back like a jigsaw puzzle decades later – it is truly incredible that the monastery is back with the same Cistercian monk in whose honor it was named. (Images courtesy Sacramenia and Miami travel sites and spanishmonastery.com).

The Venice of Florida

The town of Winter Park in Central Florida is truly a gem. One of its many highlights is a chain of lakes that are connected to each other with narrow canals – hence the honorary title – Venice of Florida. The canals were built by lumber companies in the late 1800s for the purpose of connecting the lakes so that logs cut from surrounding forests could float all the way to sawmills.

These days, one can float down the canal and feel miles away from the city. The canal is surrounded by tropical trees and offers glimpses of beautiful historic homes of Winter park. As one floats down the canal, there is a canopy of lush trees of all kinds that provide shade. There are ancient oaks and cypress tress laden heavy with Spanish moss.

Artist Don Sondag grew up in Winter Park and loves these canals which he paints frequently.

(Images Courtesy Winter Park Magazine).