Spanish Monastery Stones – San Francisco, California - Atlas Obscura
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San Francisco, California

Spanish Monastery Stones

Remains of a 12th century chapter house in Golden Gate Park. 

There are some very old stones scattered throughout Golden Gate Park, unremarkable at first glance, but when assembled they form the soaring arches and ornately carved pillars of a medieval Spanish monastery.

The stones originally made up the 12th century Cisterian monastery of Santa Maria de Ovila in Spain. The abandoned buildings were purchased by William Randolph Hearst in 1931, part of his elaborate Wyntoon estate building project in Northern California. It took eleven ships to bring all of the stones to the U.S., where they were stored in a San Francisco warehouse.

When the Depression began to take its toll on Hearst’s fortunes, he abandoned the project and sold the stones to the city. San Francisco made plans to rebuild the structure in Golden Gate Park - a project immediately complicated by a fire that destroyed all of the packing crates showing the key markings for reconstruction.

Finally, in the 1960s, the remaining stones were distributed throughout the park, including the Library Terrace Garden in the San Francisco Botanical Gardens and Japanese Tea Garden.

Elsewhere in the park, so-called “Druid Circles” hide in the wooded areas and act as sacred spaces for occasional ceremonies. Further north in Sacramento Valley, the remainder of the stones are getting a new lease on life as the Chapter House of the Abbey of New Clairvaux.