The biggest jigsaw puzzle in history

Time magazine called it “the biggest jigsaw puzzle in history.”

That is the fascinating story of a Monastery from northern Spain purchased by an American media magnate and shipped to the United States.

The venerable Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux , built in the 12th century in the small town of Sacramenia ,in the Spanish province of Segovia was the home of Cistercian Monks Order for more than seven hundred years.

The social upheaval inspired by the radicalization of the French Revolution generated in early 19th century Spain a sentiment of anticlericalism with attacks on religious institutions led to Monastery and the Cloisters of St. Bernard being seized by the populace and converted into a granary and stable.

About one hundred years later, in 1925 while visiting Spain, the American media empire tycoon William Randolph Hearst saw the Cloisters and the Monastery’s outbuildings in such a state of disrepair that he decided to but buy the classic medieval architecture and to re-erect it in the United States.

  • Randolph Hearst was the first American media magnate to control a vast spectrum of newspapers, radio stations cinema and publishing companies .His taste for grandeur was expressed in the huge properties that he owned all over the United States. No wonder that he was attracted by the Spanish Monastery that he brought to America .

The Monastery was dismantled stone by stone, all blocks were filed and numbered ,before being   wrapped up in hay and packed in more than 11,000 wooden crates ,shipped to the United States.

It is unclear why the media magnate did not carry on with the project of the rebuilding the Monastery in American soil.

It is possible that the Great American Depression took a toll on Hearst’s company and financial capability.

The fact is that the crates were abandoned in New York harbor storehouse for more than 26 years, but the more damaging misfortune  for the massive shipment was that, for fear of contamination of a plague that spread to port cities around the world by rats on steamships, all crates were burn leaving the stones without any sort of identification.

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In 1952 two entrepreneurs, attracted by the potential creating a tourist attraction in Florida purchased the stones, starting “the biggest jigsaw puzzle in history”, mentioned by a contemporary  Time magazine issue.

The mammoth task of identifying an labeling all stone work and reassembling back together, as the original Spanish structure, took almost two years ,costing  20 million dollars in today’s currency .

We had the privilege to visit the parish Church of St. Bernard de Clairvaux ,the extravagant whim of a rich multimillionaire that  today serves an active congregation of the Episcopal Diocese of Southeast Florida in Fort Lauderdale area.

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