The rebirth of a medieval Cistercian monastery building here on a patch of rural Northern California land was, of course, improbable. William Randolph Hearst, the newspaper tycoon, brought the dismantled Santa Maria de Óvila monastery from Spain but failed to restore it. The City of San Francisco, after some fitful starts at bringing the monastery back to life, left its stones languishing for decades in Golden Gate Park. The Great Depression,World War II and lethargy got in the way.

A medieval chapter house was rebuilt using stones from a 12th-century Spanish monastery. The monks spent years pursuing the project, even teaming up with Sierra Nevada Brewery, in nearby Chico, to produce Trappist-style premium beers.

The house’s stones were bought in Spain by William Randolph Hearst in the 1930s, then abandoned in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park for decades.

But an aging and shrinking order of Cistercian monks in Vina, California, have accomplished what great men and cities could not: the reconstruction of Santa Maria de Óvila’s most architecturally significant building, a 12th-century Gothic chapter house. The monks ascribed the successful restoration to their faith, though years of tenacious fund-raising, as well as a recent alliance with a local beer brewer, also helped.

“The meaning that this holds for us, and the link to hope, is that it may take generations,” the Rev. Paul Mark Schwan, the abbot of the New Clairvaux monastery, said of the restoration. “What appears dead, or almost dead, rises again.”

With the major work complete, the chapter house was opened to the public last year.

“We got into possession of the stones, and they’ve come home — a long ways from Spain, but back on Cistercian land with Cistercian monks returning it to sacred space,” Father Schwan said on a recent chilly afternoon, standing just inside one of the arched entrances, his voice resonating off the limestone walls and vaulted ceilings. “I look at this, and it’s remarkable we’ve come this far, that this is actually all put back together.”

With two-thirds of the original stones and modern earthquake-resistant reinforcements, Óvila’s chapter house now sits, perhaps incongruously, in an open field near the abbey’s modest church and vineyards, a couple of hours north of Sacramento.

It was in 1167 that King Alfonso VIII of Castile founded Santa Maria de Óvila in the province of Guadalajara, an area that he had reconquered from the Moors and that he hoped to populate with Christian settlers. For centuries, the monastery thrived as a home to Cistercian monks, a Roman Catholic order that hewed to the sixth-century Rule of St. Benedict and its emphasis on self-sufficiency, manual labor and prayer.

The monastery declined, however, and by the time it was shuttered by the Spanish government in 1835, there were only four monks left. The monastery fell into disrepair — the chapter house was being used as a manure pit — and was forgotten until it caught the eye of Hearst’s art dealer, Arthur Byne, in 1930.

Hearst, the larger-than-life newspaper publisher, wanted to build an eight-story medieval castle facing the McCloud River, and parts of the Spanish monastery would fit right in. According to American Heritage magazine, Spanish farmers and laborers from surrounding villages were hired to dismantle and haul the monastery’s most important buildings. A rail track was laid, and roads and a bridge were built to transport the massive stones. Eventually, 11 ships containing much of the monastery arrived in San Francisco.

But Hearst, whose fortune was dented during the Depression, ultimately abandoned the project and gave the monastery to San Francisco. The city’s plans to use it as part of a museum of medieval art in Golden Gate Park went nowhere. They could not raise the money for the project.

Over the decades, the monks here had watched the situation with growing despair. A chapter house serves as the heart of an abbey, the place where monks gather daily for readings and meetings. What’s more, Cistercian architecture, in its simplicity and austerity, was a reflection of the order’s faith.

“Our architecture was considered part of our prayer, and it still is,” Father Schwan said. “It’s not just the matter of a building. It expresses that vision of what we desire to strive for in our relationship with God.”

After years of lobbying, the monks in 1994 persuaded San Francisco to give them the stones on the condition that they begin the restoration work within a decade.

It was not easy. Like other Cistercian abbeys in developed nations, this one was losing members. When Father Schwan, now 56, entered the monastery here in 1980, there were 35 to 37 monks. Now there are 22, with half of them 80 or older.

“When I entered, there were two people buried in the cemetery,” he said. “We’ve got 16 or 17 in the cemetery today. I’ve actually helped bury every one of those monks, except one.”

Workers broke ground on the reconstruction in 2004, and the monks eventually raised $7 million for the project. A couple of years ago, the monks also teamed up with Sierra Nevada Brewing, in nearby Chico, to produce a series of premium Trappist-style beerscalled Ovila. To cut down on costs, the monks chose to buy limestone from Texas instead of Europe to supplement the original stones.

Though the monks are working to raise an additional $2 million to put the finishing touches on the restoration, they are already able to use the chapter house the way their Spanish predecessors did.

For more infomration on the Abbey of New Clairvaux visit here.