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Originally published Sunday, December 30, 2012 at 12:04 AM

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California brewery helps rebuild Spanish monastery

The first phase of restoring the old monastery in Vina, Calif., has been completed.

The Associated Press

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VINA, Calif. — Monks in a small Northern California town are rebuilding a centuries-old Spanish monastery with help from what may seem an unlikely source: beer.

The first phase of the building’s decades-long restoration project in the Sacramento Valley town of Vina has been completed, with the Chapter House of Ovila now standing, the San Francisco Chronicle reported on Tuesday.

In the 1930s, newspaper magnate William Randolph Hearst bought the former Trappist monastery — the Santa Maria de Ovila — and imported it from Spain for an estate that was never realized. He had planned to use parts of the church as a changing room for an indoor swimming pool.

Once that project was scrapped, Hearst donated the monastery’s pieces to the city of San Francisco, but the dismantled building sat forgotten in Golden Gate Park for more than 60 years.

The Vina monks credit the founder of their abbey, Father Thomas X. Davis, with the idea of restoring the remains to the Trappist community. Davis saw the stones at Golden Gate Park when he arrived in San Francisco in 1955 and began a campaign to bring them to Vina.

The city eventually agreed to turn over the stones to the abbey. The Chapter House was rebuilt with the help of millions of dollars raised by Sierra Nevada Brewing in Chico, Calif.

The brewers created a series of Ovila Abbey ales inspired by Belgian Trappist monks, an order that makes some of the finest beers in the world.

Monasteries in Europe still use brewing to stay financially self-sufficient, so Sierra Nevada’s partnership with the Vina monastery is in keeping with a tradition that began in the Middle Ages.

Sierra Nevada Brewing and the monks have raised $7 million over the past 12 years to help with the historic and painstaking reconstruction.

The gothic, limestone building that housed Cistercian monks for hundreds of years is finally erect again.

Still, Father Paul Mark Schwan said $2 million more is needed to finish the project: The building still lacks the proper window glass, floors and electricity needed to finish it.

“Will it take another 12 years?” Schwan said. “I prefer it not.”

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