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Adventures in Vintageland

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The Ancient Spanish Monastery: The Oldest Building in the New World Was Built in the Old One

blair waters

A 12th century Spanish monastery in North Miami Beach was shipped here, stone by stone, in 11,000 crates--and spent a lot of time in Brooklyn, too.

The cloisters and the outbuildings are part of a Cistercian monastery completed in 1141 near Segovia, Spain, and named after St. Bernard de Clairvaux. Saint Bernard was a charismatic leader who influenced the rise of the Cistercian order and whose writings became the basis of most mysticism. He was also a political force, boldly taking on anyone who disagreed with him. 

The monastery named after him fell into ruin after 700 years and by the early part of the twentieth century, it was being used primarily as a granary and stable. Enter wealthy American media magnate Willian Randolph Hearst who wanted them for San Simeon, his estate in California. He bought the buildings, had them dismantled, the stones numbered, wrapped in hay, and packed into 11,000 wooden crates, and shipped to America for his estate in California, San Simeon. But just then Hearst found himself in financial straits due to lavish spending and over-expansion, so the crates languished in a Brooklyn warehouse until the 1950s.

That’s when two enterprising men bought the crates at auction and had the pieces put back together—at a cost of $20 million dollars. Time called it the “biggest jigsaw puzzle in history.” Their intention was to build a tourist attraction near Miami named “The Ancient Spanish Monastery.”


The buildings were saved from this fate by the gift of a generous donor to the Episcopal Church in the 1960s. Today, it’s surrounded by lush tropical landscaping and looks very much like it was always situated here. You can attend services in the St. Bernard de Clairvaux Episcopal Church on Sundays, wander the lovely gardens and view the statues, attend a medieval concert, or even schedule your wedding.