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.
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).