It’s on the Dixie Highway in North Miami and at 800 years old it’s the oldest building in America. It’s called the “Old Spanish Monastery” but its real name is The Cloisters of the Ancient Spanish Monastery and St. Bernard de Clairvaux Episcopal Church. You may be wondering how it was built in Florida 300 years before Columbus? The answer is that it wasn’t built in Florida; it was built in Sacramenia, Spain between 1133 and 1144, and was originally called the “Monastery of Our Lady, Queen of Angels.” Cistercian monks occupied the building for 700 years. In the 1830s during a social revolution in Spain, it was converted into a granary and stable. But the really weird part of the story is what happened next.
In 1925 William Randolph Hearst, who liked to shop for big things, purchased the Monastery and dismantled the whole works block by block. It was a mammoth undertaking and two saw mills were built just to make the 11,000 shipping crates.
Each block was numbered and packed in a crate with hay. The crates were numbered corresponding to the blocks inside, and then shipped to the United States. However, at the same time there was an outbreak of hoof and mouth disease in Spain so U. S. Customs officials quarantined the blocks fearing the hay could be carrying the disease. The crates were opened and the hay was burned. A big problem occurred when workmen failed to replace the blocks in the right crates. The entire shipment was then stored in a New York warehouse where they remained for 26 years. In the meantime Hearst experienced financial problems and was forced to sell the whole works.
In 1952 the blocks were purchased by two men who moved them to Florida where they intended to put the monastery back together as a tourist attraction. The mismatched crates and blocks were like a giant jigsaw puzzle. It took 23 men 90 days just to open all the crates, some weighing over a ton. As an example of how big this project was, when the crates were burned more than 7 tons of nails were salvaged from the ashes. It took 19 months and 1.5 million dollars to reconstruct the ancient building. Some of the blocks were never matched and still remain in the lot behind the monastery while others were used in building the adjacent Parish Hall. The cost of putting the building back together was more than the two nearly bankrupt investors had bargained for, so once again the Monastery was sold.
In 1964 the property was purchased for the Diocese of South Florida which later became the Diocese of Central, Southeast and Southwest Florida. When the three dioceses ran into money trouble, a multimillionaire philanthropist bought the monastery for the parish of St. Bernard de Clairvaux.
The ancient Monastery today looks very much like it did 800 years ago and still has the original Baptismal font and the iron bell that once called the monks to dinner. On the stone blocks you can still see the original stone mason marks that identified the person who cut the block. The ancient building is surrounded by beautiful and serene landscaping with walks and fountains. It’s no wonder that it is the most popular place in Southeast Florida for wedding photographs or private meditation