The Cloisters of the Ancient Spanish Monastery – North Miami Beach, Florida - Atlas Obscura

The Cloisters of the Ancient Spanish Monastery

St Bernard de Clairvaux Episcopal Church, better known as one of the oldest European buildings in the Western Hemisphere. 


These Spanish cloisters built in Spain between 1133-1141 AD almost never made it to their current home in Miami, Florida to gain fame as the oldest built structure in the Western Hemisphere. For 700 years, the cloisters were part of a Cistercian monastery. In the mid-1830s, the First Carlist War in Spain led to the seizure of the cloisters, which were then sold and turned into a granary.

Spain sold Florida to the United States in 1819 for 5 million dollars, but it wasn’t until much later that the Cloisters made it to Florida.

William Randolph Hearst took an interest in the Cloisters and decided it would make a nice addition to the United States. In 1925 he bought the cloisters, which were taken apart stone by stone and shipped to the U.S. in 11,000 separate, numbered boxes. Perhaps he wanted to add them to Hearst Castle, his mansion in California. Unfortunately for Mr. Hearst, the cloister stones had been shipped with hay that was possibly contaminated with Hoof-and-Mouth Disease, which had just broken out in Spain. The boxes were quarantined and emptied, the hay was burned, and the stones were returned randomly to the boxes. This was only the beginning of Heart’s problems, however, as his dire financial situation soon forced him to sell most of his belongings. The cloisters remained in boxes in a warehouse in Brooklyn until Hearst’s death in 1952.

The boxes were purchased by Mr. W. Edgemon and Mr. R. Moss for $1.5 million. They had the idea to reconstruct the cloisters as a tourist attraction. After 19 months of puzzling over how the blocks fit together, they succeeded.

Know Before You Go

There is free parking, a good portion of it shaded. There is an admission fee, and photography is permitted throughout.

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