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Beer sales help rebuild Northern Calif. monastery

VINA, Calif. (AP) -- Monks in a small Northern California town are rebuilding a 16th Century 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 (http://bit.ly/TvoGjL).

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 for an indoor swimming pool changing room.

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 eventually convinced the city to let them rebuild it there, and with the help of the Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. in nearby Chico have raised millions to get started.

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

Monasteries in Europe still use brewing as a way to keep them financially self-sufficient, so Sierra Nevada's partnership with the Vina monastery is 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 another $2 million is needed to finish the project: the building is still without the proper window glass, floors and electricity needed to finish it.

“Will it take another 12 years?” Schwan told the paper. “I prefer it not.”

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Information from: San Francisco Chronicle, http://www.sfgate.com

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