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October 25, 2010

New Clairvaux Abbey — using stones from the 12th century to build a Chapter House

Filed under: California — Tags: , , , — furtherglory @ 2:10 pm

On Sunday, I took a trip to northern California and visited the Chapter House of a monestery located just outside the town of Vina.  The Chapter House of a monestery or abbey is where the monks go to read a chapter of the Bible every day.  It is not the living quarters of the monks.  

The Chapter House of the New Clairvaux abbey is currently in the process of being built.  When finished, it will be a reconstruction of a Chapter House that was originally built in Spain between 1190 and 1220, using the same stones. The Chapter House will be open to the public. The monks at New Clairvaux support themselves by growing grapes and making wine which they sell; there is a wine tasting room on the grounds of the abbey.

The Chapter House in Spain was dismantled and the stones were shipped to California, where they were scattered on the grounds of Gold Gate Park in San Francisco for years.  Now they have been hauled to Vina, CA where they are being used to build a new Chapter House.

The Chapter House in Spain was originally dismantled and brought to San Francisco by William Randolph Hearst in 1931.  Hearst built a huge mansion in San Simeon, which is still a major tourist attraction, but he never got around to building the Chapter House. The stones from Spain lay scattered in Golden Gate Park until the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco donated them to the abbey.  Now the abbey must raise $2.8 million to complete the building.

I have visited many old churches in Europe so I am aware of the beauty of the construction of religious buildings. There is nothing like that in America, at least not that I’ve ever seen.

The Chapter House in Vina, CA is being erected literally in the middle of nowhere.  Actually, it is in the middle of the surrounding walnut orchards.  The town of Vina has seen it’s best days and now looks like something out of the Depression years in Oklahoma.

It rained the whole time that I was there, so I didn’t get any photos.  I hope to return when the weather is better and take some photos.  The Chapter House will be like a bit of Europe in northern California.  You can see photos here and here.  The monks at the New Clairvaux abbey are Cistercian monks, an ancient order, also known as Trappist monks in America.

The land where the abbey is located was originally owned by Peter Lassen and Leland Stanford, after whom Stanford University is named.  Leland built a mansion on the property, but never lived in it.  Instead, he lived in a fancy passenger railroad car (private varnish) that was permanently parked on a side track of the nearby railroad.  Standford also built a mansion in Sacramento, which I visited when it was being restored in the 1980s.  It had been converted into a home for young girls who were expecting an out-of-wedlock baby.

I may never travel to Europe again, so I am becoming interested in California history.

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