Ave Maria Grotto – Cullman, Alabama - Atlas Obscura

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 Ave Maria Grotto, or “Jerusalem in Miniature,” a four acre miniature city, filled with tiny versions of 125 famous and holy locations. He built the Basilica in Lourdes, his last model, at the age of 80 in 1958.



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