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Ave Maria Grotto

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The Ave Maria Grotto is located in Cullman, AL. It consists of 125 miniature reproductions of famous churches, shrines and buildings from all over the world spread over four acres. The sculptures were built by a Benedictine Monk, Brother Joseph Zoettl, who spent over 40 years (1912-1958) making them using cement, jewelry, pottery, china, stones and beads.

Zoettl was born in 1878 in Bavaria and maimed in an accident that left him a hunchback. His passion for miniatures began by making tiny grottos and shrines for the souvenir shop. Soon, he was given part of the gardens surrounding the Abbey to display his creations. The sculptures were so popular with visitors that, in 1932, they were moved to a hillside beside the Abbey and Zoettl was commissioned by the abbot to build a grotto. The hillside was a former stone quarry with partially excavated spaces perfect for creating enclosures for the miniature shrines. The main grotto cave is 27 feet high, wide and deep. It houses statues of the Virgin Mary and infant Christ and the two founders of the Benedictine order. The surrounding structures include: Noah's Ark, the Tower of Babel, St. Peter's, the Statue of Liberty and the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. Zoettl had never seen most of the places he built and relied heavily on postcard images.

Although the Grotto was finished in 1934, Zoettl continued adding to the collection until his death in 1961. His buildings are safely protected on the grounds of the campus of St. Bernard Abbey. For more, see these websites: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8.

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