Wednesday, Jul. 28, 2010

Ave Maria Grotto, Cullman, Ala.

With discarded building supplies, marbles, bricks, tiles, pipes, seashells, costume jewelry and plastic animals, Brother Joseph Zoettl constructed more than 125 miniature reproductions of many of the world's most famous religious structures and landmarks. The Benedictine monk of St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Ala., devoted some 50 years to the project. "To pass the time, I started hobbies," he once said. After he made 5,000 small grottoes, which were sold to support the abbey's work, Zoettl began work on his magnum opus, the Ave Maria Grotto. Today, spread out across three acres of the abbey's forested grounds, stand tiny replicas of St. Peter's Basilica, the Leaning Tower of Pisa, the grotto of St. Theresa, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, an Our Lady of Guadalupe shrine, the Great Wall of China and miniature versions of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Rome, among others. He even crafted a mini St. Bernard's Abbey, complete with the abbey's power station where he once worked shoveling coal.