American History · art history · european history · history

Places to See: Ancient Spanish Monastery, Miami, FL

In the 20th century, 11,000 wooden crates were brought across the Atlantic in order to rebuild one of the most beautiful (and oldest) buildings. I visited Miami this weekend and was able to tour this amazing place. I was astounded at the beauty and overall peaceful feeling while in this ancient Spanish Monastery. It is most likely the oldest building in America and I felt I needed to share its history (and my pictures!).

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Currently this church is known as the St. Bernard de Clairvaux Church, but it was originally created in 1133 in Sacramenia, Spain. The construction was completed in 1141 and the Monastery was dedicated to the Virgin Mary. It was built in the Cistercian Romanesque style and was located in a mainly Muslim area of Spain during this period. It would have originally contained some defensive structures (as the Christians and Muslims where at war during this period). This monastery also contains two of the only three known telescopic windows from the medieval period that exist today (pictured below). These are placed above the altar

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As I walked through the halls and examined the stones; I noticed curious markings on the walls. These symbols were actually Mason marks where the original stonemasons carved there markings upon the completion of their stones. It was like they were signing their work or creating a brand. Everyone who saw a particular symbol would know whose masonry this was. I thought it was so fascinating that I was touching a mark that someone carved over 800 years ago.

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The Stone Mason Markings

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The monastery housed Cistercian monks for 700 years. The Cistercian lifestyle valued manual labor and self sufficiency. Many different monasteries concentrated on agriculture or brewing. It is known that this church did have a nursery which contained nearly 1,000 plants and trees.

 

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The church was founded by King Alphonso VII (1126-1157) who originally began construction as an offering to God in thanks for his victory against the Moors. Alfonso’s reign brought about the idea of a united, imperial Spain. He ruled over Leon and Castile, but was constantly attempting to occupy the south as well. He played a part in the Catholic Church’s unfortunate crusade against the Muslim population in Spain and was an extreme patron, but he did not win any lasting territory to consolidate southern Spain into his rule. Portugal still became its own country and, in the end, Alfonso VII split Leon and Castile between his two sons. This destroyed all of his attempts to create a Spanish empire. There is a statue of Alfonso VII and his son, Alfonso VIII, in the monastery along with the kings coat of arms.

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St Bernard was canonized in 1174 and this is when the monastery was renamed for him. St Bernard was one of the founders of the Cistercian order. Due to a social revolution in the early 1800s, the monastery was shut down after hundreds of years and was converted into a granary and stables.

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In 1925 William Randolph Hearst purchased this monastery and had the structures dismantled and brought to the United States in 11,000 wooden crates. These were all numbered for easy identification, but disease broke out and the U.S. Department of Agriculture had to quarantine the shipment. The crates were broke open and the numbers were lost/mixed up. Due to these issues along with other financial problems, the stones were sold at auction and then proceeded to remain in storage for 26 years. In 1952, the pieces of the monastery were bought by William Edgernon and Raymond Moss. Over 19 months they rebuilt the monastery piece by piece (mind you these were out of order!) and it cost over 13 million dollars (in today’s money). In 1964, the completed building was bought by Col. Robert Pentland, Jr. who set it up as a working church again where services are still performed.

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This site is found in North Miami Beach, Florida. It is one of the most peaceful places I have ever been and contained beautiful gardens. I wish I had had more time at this location. I could have spent all day in the gardens enjoying the peaceful silence and the gardens. There were many stray cats and lizards that roamed the grounds creating such an interesting atmosphere. I took all the pictures featured in this article and I hope I am able to encourage others to visit and support this sight. I highly suggest this monastery if you are in the area and looking for something to do. This is one of the only medieval sites you can see in America!

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This was once a Spanish nobleman’s entry gate

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Further Reading:

www.spanishmonastery.com

https://www.britannica.com/biography/Alfonso-VII

 

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