An order of Cistercian monks in rural northern California lives a quiet life of prayer, contemplation and work. One of their projects is to reconstruct a medieval monastery, also called a chapter house, that dates back to 12th century Spain.
The Abbey of New Clairvaux is using original stones carved for the Santa Maria de Ovila monastery nearly 800 years ago. The medieval monastery fell to ruins and the stones were shipped from Spain to California by William Randolph Hearst in 1931, who purchased Santa Maria de Ovila. Hearst intended to use them in the construction of a private castle but never did so.
The stones were left in a San Francisco park and the monks were able to acquire them for their chapter house, which is being built in the same manner as medieval Cistercian — also known as Trappist — monks constructed the Santa Maria de Ovila monastery.
The reconstruction project comes with a $6 million price tag. The monks were able to raise $4 million but needed another $2 million in order to have the project done in two years. Since brewing beer is another tradition, they solicited donations from a nearby brewery.
The Sierra Nevada Brewery saw the monks’ request as an opportunity to make a beer similar to the abbey ales of Belgium. They are currently testing their new brew, the Ovila Abbey Ale, which will be available in stores next year. A portion of all profits will go to the restoration project.