A Monk’s Miniature Village: Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama

ave-maria-grotto-entire-hill

When I saw this photo of a miniature village, I was immediately intrigued and curious. Who built this and how did it come to be in Cullman, Alabama?

Ave Maria Grotto 3.jpgAve Maria Grotto is also known as “The Scenic Shrine of the South.” Brother Joseph Zoettel, from Bavaria, was recruited by an American priest to come and study at Saint Bernard Abbey in Cullman in 1892. Brother Joe, as he was called, became a Benedictine monk and lived at the Abbey for 70 years.

Brother Joe enjoyed working with his hands and around 1918 he started making miniature structures with left over items from the monastery’s buildings. He made biblical structures, but also well known structures from around the world. Over 40 years, he built 125 miniature buildings. At 80 years old, in 1958, Brother Joe built his last building, the “Lourdes Basilica Church, based on the church in Lourdes, France.” Ave Maria Grotto is listed on the National Register of Historic places. The shrine’s park is more than three acres and attracts over 20,000 visitors every year.

ave-maria-grotto-5As I was reading and investigating, I found out that Colonel Johann Gottfried Cullmann (1823-1895), a Bavarian native, founded the city of Cullman in 1873. His goal was to create a German community and he slowly encouraged settlers to move to Cullman. It is said that he brought 100,000 settlers to the South.

The Encyclopedia of Alabama tells the entire story of how the city of Cullman was founded, click here, and to learn more about Brother Joe’s life, you can click here.

Certainly Brother Joe created a magnificent shrine for everyone to enjoy!

Photos: Taken by Carol M. Highsmith located on the Library of Congress website.

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