How could an old Spanish Monastery be located in North Miami Beach? Herein lies the interesting background of this story.
This Monastery was built between 1133 – 1141 A.D. near Segovia, in Northern Spain. It became known as the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux. — St. Bernard was a Cistercian monk and influential church leader, and the founder and abbot of the Abbey of Clairvaux. Cistercian monks lived in this Monastery for nearly 700 years. After a social upheaval in the 1830’s, the Monastery’s Cloisters were seized and converted into a granary and stable.
Enter legendary American publisher, William Randolph Hearst (of California’s Hearst Castle fame). In 1925, Hearst purchased the Cloisters and the Monastery’s outbuildings (the church was not part of the deal and remains where it was constructed). Hearst had the Cloister and Monastery dismantled stone by stone, placed in hay in over 11,000 wooden crates (each numbered for identification) and shipped to the United States. While clearing customs, many of the boxes were unpacked, and the carefully labeled stones were haphazardly placed back into the crates — making the potential of reassembly very problematic.
Soon after the shipment arrived, the Hearst empire ran into financial problems and much of Mr. Hearst’s private collection had to be sold at auction. The massive crates containing the Cloisters and Monastery remained stored in a warehouse in Brooklyn for 26 years. One year after Hearst died, in 1952, the craters were purchased by two entrepreneurs for who intended to construct a tourist attraction. Some 19 months and a lot of money later ($20 million in 2018 dollars), the Monastery was reassembled where it now stands. Time magazine called it “the biggest jigsaw puzzle in history.
In 1964, Colonel Robert Pentland, Jr, a multimillionaire banker and philanthropist purchased the Cloisters and presented them to the Episcopal Church. Today the site is home to the parish Church of St. Bernard de Clairvaux, an active congregation. Services are held on Sundays and weekdays in English and Spanish.
Adjoining the monastery is a small chapel, decorated for the holidays when we visited. Simple and old, with nice stained glass windows. The grounds are beautiful and worth exploring. Lush grass and tropical plants, with religious statuary.
There is a small museum at the entrance which you can visit after you’ve paid your admission. Nothing earth-shaking, but the museum has a few interesting items including an old hymnal, ancient armor, and a 16th century Spanish hearse.
The site also functions as a location for the movie industry, photo shoots and is a popular venue for weddings.
If you Visit:
The site is open to tourists most days from 10 am until 4:30 pm. Last admission is at 4:00 pm.
Admission is $10.00 for adults and $5.00 for students and seniors.
Always check before visiting because the facility is often closed for photo shoots, filming or special events.
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