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Ave Maria Grotto

A 4-acre miniature world of religious iconic structures, built by a hunchback monk – that definitely qualifies as ‘unusual’!

 Ave Maria Grotto, in Cullman, Alabama, is a landscaped, 16,000 m2 park built in an old quarry on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey. It is a beautiful garden setting for 125 intricate handmade miniature reproductions of some of the most famous religious structures from around the world.

The stone and concrete models were crafted as a labour of love by Brother Joseph Zoettl, a Benedictine monk of St. Bernard Abbey. Zoettl devoted 50 years of his life to the project, working on his project well into old age. The models he produced incorporated many discarded building supplies, bricks, marbles, tiles, seashells, plastic animals, costume jewellery, toilet bowl floats and cold cream jars. As such, it stands as a great example of early recycling!

The display runs along a delightful forested trail, with stunning landscaping serving as a perfect backdrop. Built into a steep hillside, there are a number of notable building structures: Roman Catholic cathedrals and monasteries predominate – for example, St. Peter's Basilica, the Monte Cassino Abbey and the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes. In addition, there are scenes from ancient Jerusalem, hence the park’s name "Jerusalem in Miniature".  As well as the many religious buildings, there are also several secular buildings and even the occasional pagan temple:  there is the Alamo Mission in San Antonio, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, Spanish missions, German castles, South African shrines, Hansel and Gretel's Temple of the Fairies, and even the St. Bernard Abbey power station, where the Zoettl had worked long hours shovelling coal.

Close to the end of the trail there is a Tower of Thanks expressing Brother Joseph's gratitude for the support he received during the years spent building his sculptures.

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