Ave Maria Grotto

Ave Maria Grotto 10-14-2013Traveling up I-65 in northern Alabama, I must have seen the signs for Ave Maria Grotto at least two dozen times over the years. I’ve even stayed in Cullman, where it is located, at least four times. Every once in awhile, I’d consider checking it out, but the impulse flickered out before I ever acted on it.

When we were checking out of the motel in Cullmen, Friend Shari saw a brochure advertising the place. “Want to give it a look?” she asked.

Furrowing my brow and trying to figure out if she was kidding, I said, “I’m game. Are you kidding me?” (She knows the only time I’m in a church is if I’m photographing it.)

We qualified for the $5 senior citizen admission (and they didn’t even ask for proof of age). I have to admit that the first few objects didn’t impress me much. They were an amateurish collection of concrete, tile, marbles and other building materials thrown together pretending to be art.

Brother Joseph Zoettl

Ave Maria Grotto 10-14-2013When we got into areas where Brother Joseph Zoettl started doing miniature buildings, I was more impressed. What interested me more was the story of the artist described on the Ave Maria Grotto website.

Brother Joseph was born in 1878. In 1891, he almost died of the flu that swept Europe. In 1892, he left for America where he served as a housekeeper for mission priests. After that, he went on to work 17-hour days in the St. Bernard Abbey powerhouse, seven days a week.

Made 5,000 small grottoes

Ave Maria Grotto 10-14-2013In 1918, he started working with concrete and constructing little grottoes that could be sold in a gift shop. In 1932, after making 5,000 small grottoes to sell to support missions, he started on the project that you can see today. In 1934, the Ave Maria Grotto was dedicated, and he continued his work for another 40 years, using materials sent from all over the world. He built his last model, the Basilica in Lourdes, at the age of 80, in 1958. He died in 1961.

Ave Maria Grotto photo gallery

Here is a small sampling of Brother Joseph’s work. Click on any image to make it larger, then click on the side of the photo to move through the gallery.

8 Replies to “Ave Maria Grotto”

  1. Fascinating. The gardens make a nice backdrop for this amazing collection. Zoettl’s “Statue ofLiberty” was my favorite.

    1. Interesting. I didn’t shoot a lot of his works like Statue of Liberty because I liked his reproductions better. I imagine his works look different as the light changes and the glass he uses reacts to it. It was a hard place to shoot because of all the shadows and highlights. You’d have to go back several times to do it justice.

  2. If I brave another road trip with you, we’ll have to go to this – way cool! I want to go to the coon dog cemetery, too.

    1. Shari got to see more things because we stayed off the Interstates as much as possible. You and I were on the main roads for most of our trip north.

      You are welcome to come along when I have a seat empty. (I may have to start taking reservations way in advance due to demand. And, yes, I’ll beat you to saying that you ALWAYS have reservations about going anywhere with me.)

  3. Way cool stuff here Ken. I am glad Shari dragged you into this little world and you took pictures! Things like this amaze me. Think of the hours, days, weeks and months this Brother worked on this project. The passion he put into all the little building, researching the design and then building it…things like this always amaze me. Well worth the stop. I would not have asked for ID to prove you were a senor citizen either so don’t act surprised.

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