Putting the pieces together: a Spanish Monastery for Miami

Time magazine called it “the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle.” A cloister and refectory built almost 1000 years ago as part of a monastery in Sacramenia, Spain was salvaged from a Brooklyn warehouse and the estate of William Randolph Hearst – and reconstructed in Miami. There were 35,000 pieces in 11,000 wooden crates, mixed-up and misnumbered.

In 1925, Hearst purchased the former Cloisters of St. Bernard de Clairvaux with the intention of using it to surround his pool at his California San Simeon estate. Completed in 1141, it was occupied by Cistercian monks for almost 700 years.  Hearst’s plan was derailed by an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in Spain, causing concern by U.S. officials who quarantined the shipment, burning the hay protecting the carefully numbered and packed stones.  Workers must not have been too concerned with any sort of system as they repacked the massive shipment.

The now mixed-up stones remained in a warehouse until a year after Hearst’s death in 1952, when bought by two entrepreneurs and transported to Miami for use as a tourist attraction. Located in North Miami Beach on the lush site of a former landscape nursery, it took 19 months and more than $14 million in today’s dollars to get it back together. Remarkably, when the puzzle seemed complete there were stones left over, so the enterprising duo used them randomly in newer construction on the site.

In 1964, ownership changed hands once again and it is now a part of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida with an active congregation. The site has become a popular go-to venue for weddings, special events, and photo-shoots. When I recently visited with my preservation friends, a lovely 15-year old quinceanera was dressed in her red ball gown enjoying a photoshoot as part of her upcoming birthday celebration.

The Spanish Monastery, small museum and expansive gardens, complete with a labyrinth, are open for visitors and tours are available. www.SpanishMonastery.com  305.945.1461




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3 Comments on “Putting the pieces together: a Spanish Monastery for Miami

  1. Sorry I missed the tour. I have been there to a wedding, though.

  2. Hey! Assume y’all going to Amsterdam …….send pics!!!! Have a great trip!

    Debbie Tuttle


  3. Very interesting and educational. Love how you research and love how you express your knowledge. Really enjoyed reading about how Miami came to acquire and rebuild this historic monastery.

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