Wednesday, April 21, 2010
The Monastery of St. Bernard of Sacramenia: A Lesson in Beauty and Preservation
By Brian Nixon
Special to ASSIST News Service
ALBUQUERQUE, NEW MEXICO (ANS) -- I first met William S. Edgemon in Tucson, Arizona. It was the mid 1970’s. Officially Bill, as we called him, was “seeing” my eccentric, but wonderful Presbyterian grandmother, Peggy Clauser.
Peggy collected everything: rocks, stamps, more rocks, salt and pepper shakers, and more rocks.
According to my mother, Grandma met Bill at an apartment in Tucson. Their mutual love for rocks, artifacts, and history was a common bond -- they hit it off.
My first impression of Bill was one of awe. He was tall -- at least to a seven-year-old -- and very interesting. His house was full of artifacts: old guns, Native American rugs and pots, and a host of fascinating items that any kid—interested in archeology—could dream.
Bill owned mines and would take to the Arizona landscape, all the while speculating about Geronimo’s burial place.
Sadly, Bill died before he and my grandmother got more serious. I was never able to call him “Grandpa Bill”. Grandma Peggy followed, passing in 1985, shortly after her move to California to live with us.
Yet lore about Peggy and Bill continued. Our family would often discuss the two -- usually in conjunction with something Bill did in the 1950’s.
The “something” was historic in nature. As a businessman in Cincinnati, Ohio, Bill and his business partner, R. Raymond Moss, were fascinated with medieval art.
And it just so happened that William Randolph Hearst’s (the media/paper magnate) quest to move an old Spanish Monastery from Segovia, Spain to his home in San Simeon, California was failing.
Hearst bought it from a Spanish farmer in 1925.
The story of how William Randolph Hearst found, bought, and relocated the monastery is fascinating, and can be read in the small book, The Strange Story of the Ancient Spanish Monastery by Jack Bondurant (published in 1957 and long out of print).
After the Great Depression in 1929 and hundreds of thousands of dollars, Mr. Hearst left the 10,751 boxes of stone piled three stories high in a warehouse in the Bronx, New York. The stones sat there for years.
Bill and Raymond had read about the monastery in a paper, and it perked their interest. They contacted the Hearst family and made an offer. Hearst wouldn’t budge. He later told them that he would never get rid of the monastery—until after he died.
Well, as things would have it, Hearst died in 1951.
Thereafter, Bill and Raymond set out to get the monastery and rebuild it on one of their properties north of Miami, Florida.
The story of the construction can be read in the booklet mentioned above. The long end of things is that it took almost two years to construct, costing over one million dollars.
The church was purchased by the Episcopal Church in 1964, then, due to financial difficulties, Robert Pentland purchased and donated it back to the Episcopal Church. The building has been in the hands of Episcopal Church ever since.
Why Bill and his business partner chose to tackle such a huge undertaking is unknown to me. Maybe it was a love for art; maybe a love for God; or maybe both. I hope it was both—for in beautiful things, one finds a glimpse of God. According to Bishop N.T Wright, “Beauty is a signpost that points us to God.”
As art historian John Ruskin once said, “When we build, let us think that we build forever. Let it not be for present delight nor present use alone. Let it be such work as our descendants will thank us for, and let us think as we lay stone on stone that a time is come when these stones will be sacred because our hands have touched them, and that men will say as they look upon the labor and wrought substance of them: ‘See. This our fathers did for us.’”
May I be so bold to add to Ruskin’s quote: what these Christian men did for God’s glory, creating a mark of beauty—reflecting the Beautiful One.
In old churches or monasteries one finds two sources of beauty: the hands that made it for God’s glory and the One who inspired it.
Help preserve the wonderful churches throughout the world. Attend them and support them in order to seek and find the One who inspired their foundations!
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