Miami is internationally known for its prime examples of Art Deco, Mediterranean Revival and Miami Modern architecture. However, these historic churches, monasteries and temples are spectacular examples of other architectural styles you wouldn't expect to find in South Florida. From Romanesque and Byzantine to temples fashioned after imperial palaces, here’s a list of some of our favorites.
Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux
The Monastery of St. Bernard de Clairvaux in North Miami Beach is part of an actual Spanish monastery built in the 12th century near Segovia, Spain, in Sacramenia. Referred to by locals as the Ancient Spanish Monastery, sections of the building, including the cloisters, were purchased in the 1920’s by newspaper tycoon William Randolph Hearst. It was dismantled and shipped to New York, and later it was reconstructed by stonemason Allan Carswell, who built the Cloisters in New York, as an Episcopal church in 1952-3.
The Monastery Cloister is the oldest building in the Western Hemisphere and features Romanesque and gothic arches, vaulted ceilings, stonewalls and stained-glass windows. The facility is a popular venue for weddings and those who fancy a stroll through the 20 acres of manicured gardens that include rare palms, Spanish oaks, cycads, banyans and flowering trees. Open seven days a week, Mon.-Sat. 10 am-4:30 pm and Sun. 11 am-4:30 pm. The Chapel is open for mass on Sundays at 8 am and 10:15 am in English and 12:15 pm for Spanish services.
Wat Buddharangsi Buddhist Temple of Miami
A hidden gem in rural South Miami-Dade in the Homestead area—a 45-minute drive from metro Miami—the Wat Buddharangsi is an authentic Thai Buddhist temple, and the only one in South Florida. The journey to construct the temple was an arduous one stalled because of Hurricane Andrew in 1992. The result however, is quite impressive. The Eastern-inspired architecture of ascending steeples is adorned with decorative red tiles and gold donated by the Marble Temple in Bangkok, Thailand. The crown jewel—the main buddha statue—is made from bronze with gold and silver accents, is 23 feet high and weighs five tons.
The complex is made up of five buildings in five acres of land, and includes a dining hall where on the weekends you can purchase Thai food, educational classrooms for kids camps and group school tours, a bell tower and a six-bedroom apartment where the monks live. The temple has several rules visitors need to abide by including dressing conservatively (no shorts, miniskirts or tank tops), expect to leave shoes outside and no food or drink is allowed on the grounds. The temple is open seven days a week from 7 am to 5 pm.
Plymouth Congregational Church
A mere 21 years after Miami was officially incorporated as a city, the mission-style "coral rock" building of the Plymouth Congregational Church was constructed in Miami's oldest neighborhood, Coconut Grove. The year was 1917. However, the church’s parish dates back to the late 1880s. At that time it was an old, wooden schoolhouse. The church you see today was built in a short period of time—14 months—and even more impressive, it was built by one man, Spanish stonemason Felix Rebom.
He must have had divine intervention because, according to church records, his only tools were a hatchet, trowel, T-square and plumb line. Its design is inspired after an old city mission church in Mexico. In 1928, Harriet James purchased a 300-year old door from the Spanish monastery in the Pyrenees that now serves as the main entrance to the church. The campus contains several other notable rock buildings once part of the William Matheson estate.
Gesu Catholic Church
Gesu Church is Miami's oldest Roman Catholic church still standing on its original site, a nine-lot area provided by railroad magnate and Miami's founding father, Henry M. Flagler in 1896. The original wood frame church opened in what is considered today as Downtown Miami's business district, in 1897. Flagler has been credited for donating land to build the first Presbyterian, Baptist, Catholic and Methodist Episcopal churches in South Florida.
The original structure was replaced in 1924 with a Mediterranean Revival-style building designed by Owen Williams of Palm Beach and built at a cost of more than $450,000. Its interior was designed without posts or pillars so that there would be nothing to obstruct the view of the congregation from the pulpit. The church’s singular stained-glass windows were made by Franz Mayer in Munich, Germany. Listed in the National Register of Historic Places, Gesu Church was recently restored to its original appearance, the design includes a massive arched portico under a landmark tower.
Temple Emanu-El is the oldest Conservative congregation on Miami Beach and is considered one of the most beautiful synagogues in America. Completed in 1948, it has a long and venerable history as a spiritual home to the Jewish residents of the beaches for more than seven decades. Its impressive and eclectic Byzantine and Moorish architecture features a rotunda building and copper dome that stands more than ten stories tall.
Modeled after the Great Synagogue in Oran, Algeria, it endures as an historical landmark in the Art Deco cityscape of Miami Beach. Many politicians and spiritual leaders have visited the sanctuary over the years including President Ronald Reagan, President Bill Clinton, the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu.