The year was 1925. Newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst was three years from his media empire’s peak. He commanded nearly 30 different papers in cities around the country and enjoyed a fortune valued today at $35 billion dollars. Naturally, the next step was to buy a High Medieval Spanish monastery, disassemble it stone by stone, pack it into 11,000 wooden crates, and ship it all from Sacramenia in Northern Spain to Brooklyn, New York.
The Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux was originally built and christened “The Monastery of Our Lady, Queen of the Angels,” in 1133 A.D. before the canonization of St. Bernard led to its renaming in 1174. For the next 700 years, it was inhabited by generations of Cistercian monks until it was converted into a stable and granary in the early 19th century in the aftermath of Spain’s social revolution.
Hearst purchased the monastery, including the cloisters and the outbuildings, nearly 95 years later, intending to relocate it to his sprawling Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California. By the time the crates had arrived in New York, however, word of the contagious foot-and-mouth disease, which had broken out among cattle in Spain, reached the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which had the shipment quarantined. In addition, Hearst’s news empire had taken a turn for the worse as the Great Depression mounted its toll. Most of Hearst’s collections were auctioned off, and the monastery, still disassembled, remained in its Brooklyn warehouse for the next 26 years.
The monastery was discovered once again only one year after Hearst’s death, at which time two entrepreneurs looking to make the place a tourist attraction spent $20 million in modern currency and 19 months rebuilding it in Florida, prompting Time Magazine to deem it “the biggest jigsaw puzzle in history.” It was finally purchased for the last time in 1964 by Colonel Robert Pentland, Jr, a multimillionaire banker, and still stands holding Service on Sundays and weekdays.