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The state of Florida has no shortage of options when it comes to weekend fun, but few hold a candle to the cloisters of the monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux in the heart of North Miami. With its strange history, its lushly planted gardens and its feel of medieval Europe, the Ancient Spanish Monastery (16711 West Dixie Highway, North Miami Beach; 305.945.1461; offers a prime getaway.

The World’s Biggest Jigsaw Puzzle

Construction on the monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux began in northern Spain in the early 12th century. The monastery and its cloisters were home to an order of Cistercian monks who lived on the grounds for 700 years. But revolution in the 1800s sent the monks packing, and the one-time holy place became a stable for horses. The horses remained its sole occupants until 1925 when William Randolph Hearst—American media mogul and businessman—purchased the cloisters and some of the buildings tied to the monastery. Hearst paid to have the structures disassembled, and each stone was packed in hay and placed in a numbered shipping container. The containers were sent to the United States, but they arrived at a bad time. Hoof and mouth disease had broken out in northern Spain, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture seized the shipping containers. Agents broke open the boxes and burned the hay inside. When they repacked the containers, many of the stones didn’t make it into their original numbered boxes.

That was the least of the problems for the disassembled monastery. Hearst was on the verge of financial ruin, and his projects for the Spanish cloister soon fell by the wayside. The stones sat in a warehouse in New York City for the next 25 years. When Hearst died in 1951, the monastery was auctioned off to a pair of Ohio businessmen. The businessmen brought the stones to Miami, where they had them reassembled as a tourist attraction. The project cost more than a million dollars and was called “the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle.”

Sunday Services

The Spanish monastery was short-lived as a tourist attraction, and it was eventually sold to a wealthy benefactor, who donated the buildings to the Episcopal Diocese. Today it lives on as the Church of St. Bernard de Clairvaux and holds regular services in both English and Spanish.

Not to Be Missed

The buildings and cloister of the medieval monastery are remarkable. Don’t miss the stone finials atop the columns inside the cloister—each was hand-carved by medieval artisans, and no two are alike. The vaulted stone ceilings of the Chapter House are equally impressive. Be sure to leave time to stroll the monastery’s lushly manicured grounds.

When to Go

The Spanish Monastery is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the visiting schedule varies depending on the private events being held there. The calendar on its website is mostly up to date, but it’s best to call ahead to confirm.

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