Unless you’re living in Spain, what are the odds of you having a Spanish Monastery in your own back yard? But that’s exactly what I’ve had for pretty much my whole life.
The sad part is that I never paid it any mind. I grew up in North Miami Beach, Florida just minutes away from this beautiful monastery. I visited friends that lived blocks away. My dad played tennis at the courts next to the monastery. But like most people, I didn’t appreciate what was in my own city. I wanted to travel and see the world! That meant venturing out, not looking at what was right in front of me.
It took years of living away from Miami and returning home for me to appreciate how much more there is to my home town than just beaches and partying (which are fun too!). One of the first places I visited upon my return was the Ancient Spanish Monastery.
It was a lovely morning to explore the grounds; the sun was shining and there was a slight breeze. The manicured lawns and brightly colored flowers only added to the picturesque scene in front of me as I walked up to the cloisters.
I could have spent hours walking around the grounds. It was very peaceful considering we were surrounded by neighborhoods and busy streets. There was even a small group at the far end of the property doing yoga. But what I found the most surprising about the monastery, was the monastery itself. It was a giant jigsaw puzzle. Literally.
Originally, the Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux was built in northern Spain from 1133 to 1141 AD. Monks lived in the monastery for almost 700 years until a revolution occurred in the 1830’s and the cloisters were seized and converted into a granary and stable. Then, in 1925 William Randolph Hearst purchased the buildings and had them taken apart stone by stone, packed in about 11,000 numbered wooden crates, and shipped to the US. Unfortunately, Hearst had some financial difficulties, and the crates ended up being sold at an auction and remained in a warehouse in New York for 26 years.
Then in 1952, one year after Hearst’s death, two entrepreneurs purchased the stones to create a tourist attraction. After 19 months and about $1.5 million dollars (today that would be about $20 million dollars!), the monastery was put back together. In 1953 the monastery was called “the biggest jigsaw puzzle in history” by Time magazine. In 1964, the cloisters were purchased by Colonel Robert Pentland, Jr, a philanthropist who presented them to the Bishop of Florida. Since then, it has been an active church with services on Sundays and throughout the week.
As I entered the cloisters, I marveled at the fact that these incredible buildings had been taken apart and put back together. It must have been a very frustrating and satisfying project, all at the same time.
In the center of the cloisters is a garden with a well that dates back to the 2nd century. Above it hung pretty crystal decorations that gleamed in the sunlight and jingled softly as the trees swayed.
So next time you’re in Miami, or even if you’re from Miami, consider spending a few hours at the Ancient Spanish Monastery.
Besides religious services, the monastery often has private events like weddings, concerts, and even film and photo shoots. Did you know Catherine Zeta-Jones filmed a dance number for Rock of Ages in the chapel? And remember the movie Ace Ventura? Some scenes were shot on the grounds of the monastery. So although they are open every day, I would recommend calling ahead to make sure they are open.
Address: 16711 West Dixie Highway, North Miami Beach Fl 33160
Have you been to the Ancient Spanish Monastery in North Miami Beach?
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