The Ave Maria Grotto is a four-acre park featuring 125 miniature reproductions of some of the most important Christian buildings and shrines, located in Cullman, Alabama.
Known as “Jerusalem in Miniature” this wonderful attraction was built from concrete, stone and seashells, by Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk of the nearby St. Bernard Abbey. Joseph was born in Germany, in 1878 and nearly lost his life to a flu epidemic that swept around Europe. He emigrated to the USA as a teenager, and settled in Alabama, where a freak accident left him scoliosis and a back injury. That’s probably the reason he decided to join the newly opened Benedictine monastery of Cullman. He took his vows at the age of nineteen and was put in charge of the monastery’s powerhouse.
It was around this time Brother Joseph began tinkering with stones, leftover cement and other junk he found outside the powerhouse. He would build Bible scenes from old ink bottles and rusted birdcages, and his handiwork soon attracted the attention of Father Dominic, who asked him to make two miniature grottoes for him to sell and raise money for the abbey. The artworks were so impressive they sold immediately, so what Joe though was just a one time deal turned into a regular business, and he ended up creating over 5,000 grottoes.