– Vol. IX, No. 4: June 2003
Everything Old Is New Again
Monks build anew with ancient stones
After a journey spanning more than 5000 miles and many years, stones from the Abbey of Santa Maria de Ovila in Guadalajara, Spain, have found a permanent home in Vina, California.
After Ovila — established in 1181 by Cistercian monks — was closed in 1835, it fell into disrepair. In 1931 publishing magnate William Randolph Hearst purchased parts of the abbey, dismantled the buildings and shipped them to the United States, where he intended to use the stones to construct parts of his Wyntoon Castle in northern California.
Financial difficulties prevented Hearst from moving ahead with the project, and in 1941 he gave the stones to the city of San Francisco in return for a cancelled debt. The stones were moved to Golden Gate Park, where they stayed — through fires, theft and vandalism — for more than 50 years.
Cistersians at the Abbey of New Clairvaux, in Vina, California, first learned of the stones in the 1950s. This began a decades-long campaign to acquire them from the park.
Finally, in 1994, the city of San Francisco agreed to let New Clairvaux have the stones; and with the help of architects and stonemasons, the project to rebuild Ovila’s chapter house at New Clairvaux began.
Once rebuilt, the Santa Maria de Ovila chapter house will be the oldest freestanding building in the United States west of New York and one of only three examples of Cistercian Gothic architecture in the country.
The project will cost an estimated $4 million and is expected to be completed in mid-2004. Recon-struction of the chapter house is part of a larger endeavor that includes construction of a new church and pastoral center for the abbey. The new buildings will apply Cistercian architectural ratios in order to match the unique style of the chapter house.
(Sources: Abbey of New Clairvaux, sacredstones.org, Southern Nebraska Register)