For our Pioneer Week, we had to visit a historical/heritage building in our area. South Florida doesn't boast very many "pioneer settlements"...so we improvised. On Thursday, we visited Bill Baggs State Park on Key Biscayne, and toured the lighthouse there. It is the oldest building in South Florida. It has been destroyed twice...once by raiding Seminoles who burnt it to the ground, and once by a hurricane. Now it is preserved and you can visit it and go to the top of the lighthouse (95 feet and 109 stairs up) to look out over beautiful Cape Florida. The keepers cottage is so quaint, I wish I could live there!!!
We visit Bill Baggs frequently...it is a beautiful beach, left to be wild and overgrown, with mangroves fading to sawgrass fading to coarse sandy beaches and quietly lapping waters. The reefs are ripe with colorful tropical fish, and just beyond the slope are beds of seagrass where the turtles feed. We've climbed the lighthouse at least 4 times, now...but we never tire of it.
On Friday, we went to North Miami Beach to see The cloisters of the Ancient Spanish Monastery and St. Bernard de Clairvaux Episcopal Church. The monastery is the oldest building on the Western Hemisphere. It was originally built in Segovia, Spain, between 1133 and 1144 A.D. Cistercan monks occupied it for nearly 700 years. During a social revolution in the area in the 1830's, the Cloisters were siezed, sold, and converted to a granary and stable.
In 1925, William Randolph Hearst purchased the Cloisters and the Monasterys outbuildings and had them dismantled stone by stone, bound with protective hay, and packed in some 11,000 wooden crates (numbered for identification), and shipped to the U.S. About that time, hoof and mouth disease had broken out in Segovia, and the USDA, fearing possible contagion, siezed and quarantined the shipment upon its arrival, broke open the crates, and burned the hay. Unfortunately, the workers failed to put the stones back in the correct boxes before moving them into a warehouse.
After the shipment arrived, Mr. Hearst got into some financial trouble that forced most of his collection to be sold at auction. The stones remained in a warehouse in Brooklyn for 26 years. After Mr. Hearst's death in 1952, , they were purchased by Messrs. W. Edgemon and R. Moss for use as a tourist attraction. It took 19 months and $1.5 million dollars to put the Monastery back together. Some of the unmatched stones still remain in the back lot...like leftover screws on Christmas morning.
I've never been fortunate enough to travel to Europe...but I imagine that it would feel very much like this place. There was an aura of solemnity and mystery through the gorgeous arched halls. The monastery had been built on the grounds of a former nursery, and was overgrown with lush tropical plants and trees dripping with Spanish moss and shy wild orchids. It truly felt as if we'd been transported to another time and place. The feeling was so profound that my normally rambucious and irreverent children were hushed and awed...almost tiptoeing through the halls and rooms.
Upon entering the small and private chapel, they immediately gravitated towards the front to kneel at the padded alter. Being that we are not Catholic, I have no idea how they knew to do this. After bowing his head for a few seconds, Joseph turned to me and whispered, "Mom, why are there so many candles?" I explained that people lit them to honor the dead, ask for favors or repentance from Heavenly Father or various saints. As quick as a wink, the familiar mishievious light glinted in Brighams eyes, and he leaped up and began to run through the chapel, blowing out candles and peoples "prayers". My other children looked on...mouths agape and horrified expressions tatooed across their faces, as I cut through a row of pews to head off the little demon and take him outside. As I quickly shepherded my children off the premises, I could hear Joseph whispering a fierce and stern lecture to the little brother who was holding his hand. As we walked through the arched gate, I distinctly heard Brigham protest: "But dude...that was AWESOME!!!"