Some of you will recognise this picture because I've already used it on Life in a Day ... but now I'll tell you where it is ... and the extraordinary history surrounding this remarkable and little-visited garden in North Miami Beach, FL. This is the monastery of St Bernard de Clairvaux, which dates from the 12th century and started out in the tiny village of Sacramenia in Segovia, Spain and for almost 700 years it was occupied by Cistercian monks. So how, you might well ask, does this edifice come to be here in Florida?
The answer is quite bizarre - the buildings were purchased by William Randolph Hearst in 1925 - dismantled stone by stone, packed into 11,000 cases with hay as protection, meticulously numbered and shipped to the United States. But unfortunately for Hearst, the shipment coincided with a particularly bad outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in Segovia, so the entire shipment was quarantined by the Department of Agriculture. The crates were opened because hay was deemed to be a potential carrier of the disease; the hay was burned and the contents were randomly repacked!!
By this time Hearst had run into financial difficulty, so the crates were stored in a Brooklyn warehouse for some 25 years until Messrs Edgemon and Moss purchased them as a potential tourist attraction a year after Hearst's death. It cost them $1.5 million dollars and 19 months of labour to reassemble the buildings on the current site, but neither time nor money could overcome the problem of the mislabeling that had occurred during the hay burning! So although the monastery looks complete today, there are many stones that have never been fitted into the puzzle.
The formal gardens that are there today are quite enchanting, with a series of clipped hedges, brick walkways and statues. There is a canopy of live oaks and palms, as well as many bromeliads and orchids. But it is the ambience here that is really special - it is a very peaceful place, with plenty of open spaces. Well worth leaving the beaten track to visit and you'll be quite amazed when you get there. Prior to reconstruction of the cloisters, there was a nursery here, so there are more than 1,000 mature plants and trees in the garden that date from the 1950s. The Episcopal church on the site remains active and the gardens are open every day.