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Brother Joseph Zoettl, Ave Maria Grotto

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Visiting Information

The Grotto remains operated by St. Bernard Abbey and is open to the public.

About the Artist/Site

Born in the Bavarian town of Landshut, he joined the Benedictine Order and was recruited for Saint Bernard Abbey, Alabama’s first and only Benedictine Abbey, in 1892. At first he served as a housekeeper for priests in various missions run by the Order, but in 1911 was reassigned to the building of the power plant for the Abbey, a project that lasted for thirty years. He broke up the tedious, backbreaking work by starting to build miniature churches and other buildings as a hobby, later branching out to construct small grottoes to house purchased religious statues for the purpose of raising funds for the Abbey.  After making 5000 small grottoes, in 1932 he began construction of the monumental Ave Maria Grotto complex. Although it was dedicated in 1934, it was not completed until 1958, the year of Brother Zoettl’s eightieth birthday. Using cement with found objects and materials sent to him from all over the world, the Ave Maria Grotto includes over 125 miniature reproductions of famous churches, shrines, and other noteworthy buildings, and is spread over a three-acre site. The Grotto remains operated by St. Bernard Abbey and is open to the public.

~ Jo Farb Hernández



SPACES Archive Holdings

1 folder: images, history, clippings, nat’l historic places nomination forms, correspondence (Map legend and self-guided tour; brochure of site; chronology of Brother Zoettl and Ave Maria Grotto; newspaper articles, photos)

Map and site information

1599-1689 St Bernard Dr SE
Cullman, Alabama, United States
Latitude/Longitude: 34.178782 / -86.818707

Visiting Information

The Grotto remains operated by St. Bernard Abbey and is open to the public.

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