The following comes from a December 26 story in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Father Paul Mark Schwan shivers in the morning chill of California’s Sacramento Valley, a blue hooded sweatshirt layered over his monk’s robes. It’s almost eerily quiet at the Abbey of New Clairvaux, an order of Cistercian monks in this town 20 miles north of Chico, where Schwan serves as abbot. A blanket of mist hugs the walnut orchards as the abbot picks his way across the muddy ground.
Before him lies a surreal site: an intact mediaeval church with vaulted limestone walls and peaked windows, looking as if it was dropped there by accident.
“I believe these stones were going to be used as a changing room for an indoor swimming pool,” says Schwan, 56, looking thoughtfully at the building. “Thanks be to God it didn’t happen.”
This is the famous Chapter House of Ovila – a 16th century Spanish Trappist monastery with a history so dramatic, it almost belongs in a pulp novel. Originally imported by William Randolph Hearst to be used in a grand estate that never was, the monastery stones were all but abandoned in Golden Gate Park for more than 60 years.
But through the tireless lobbying of Schwan’s predecessor, and a 12-year campaign by the monks to raise $7 million for a painstaking reconstruction, those stones found a home in Vina.
To help raise proceeds for rebuilding, in 2010 the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in Chico began brewing the Ovila Abbey beers, a series of Belgian Trappist-style ales, in conjunction with the monks.
This spring, the chapter house was finally unveiled. One of only a few mediaeval sites in all of North America, its ribbed vaults and pointed arches are classic examples of Gothic architecture.
At least another $2 million is needed, Schwan says, for window glass, floors, electricity and other basic amenities needed before the monks can use it as their church.
“Will it take another 12 years?” says Schwan. “I prefer it not.”
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