Ave Maria Grotto - Atlas Obscura
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Cullman, Alabama

Ave Maria Grotto

Explore a four-acre miniature city, designed and built by a single monk.

Brother Joseph Zoettl was born on January 24, 1878, with a difficult life ahead of him. Hunchbacked and poor, he was only 14 when he signed up to join the St. Bernard Abbey hoping to escape his hard life.

His life stayed hard: Brother Joseph spent 17 hours a day for 30 years working in the abbey’s pump house. “It became very tedious,” he later said, but it was during this time that he began building models as a way to keep himself occupied. Zoettl went on to create thousands of miniatures to sell and hundreds of larger scale models to keep at the Abbey.

What began as a hobby became the incredible Ave Maria Grotto, or “Jerusalem in Miniature,” a four acre miniature city, filled with tiny versions of 125 famous and holy locations built in an old quarry by Brother Joseph over the course of 40 years.

This Obscura Day, explore Ave Maria Grotto on a guided tour lead by Brother Christopher of St. Bernard Abbey. Following our tour, lunch will be provided at the Abbey and attendees are welcome to stay and join the monks in daily mass.


  • Meet-up for our tour will be inside the Ave Maria Grotto Gift Shop.
  • Lunch at the Abbey is included in the ticket cost.

Email megan@atlasobscura.com

Advance Tickets Only. All Sales Final. No Refunds or Exchanges.

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