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Ave Maria Grotto

by Richie

Ave Maria Grotto at St. Bernard Abby
Cullman, Alabama

Tucked in the rolling grounds of an Alabama monastery is an entire village of miniatures, handmade over the course of a lifetime by a skilled monk.


Whether you’re religious or not, Ave Maria Grotto is an amazing place to visit.

Brother Joseph Zoett spent most of his life dedicated to building these miniature villas and grottos. His creations show the fine work of a skilled craftsman. The miniatures are spread over a two-block area on the lovely grounds of St. Bernard Abbey and are open for public viewing for a small fee.

The miniatures range from a couple of inches high to shoulder height. Most are about a foot tall and all are carefully crafted with extraordinary detail.

Each little building was painstakingly constructed with tiny tiles, decorative finials, and landscaped with rock paths and green plants. The miniature villages wind through a natural outcropping, creating grotto scenes of religious or historic importance. You can find Rome’s Colosseum alongside the Alamo. There’s even a wee fairy den complete with a lurking dragon.

Brother Joseph died in 1961, but his dedicated assistant diligently maintained the grottos and even added a new section of tiny buildings.

Our visit lasted less than an hour, but I could have easily spent the whole afternoon viewing these wonderful models and enjoying the property’s tranquil setting.

If you’re passing through central Alabama, Ave Maria Grotto is a delightful stop. Be sure to buy a loaf of the monks handmade raisin bread!



Denise March 23, 2021 - 10:29 am

What wonderful photos of one of my favorite out-of-the-way treasures! I went once as a child and again a few years ago… Thanks, Richie

Richie March 23, 2021 - 12:21 pm

We may stop there again on our way home! 😁

Lois March 22, 2021 - 6:23 pm

How lucky you are to find such an extraordinary place. I hope we can enjoy a visit too. The photos are wonderful.

Richie March 22, 2021 - 6:40 pm

They have room for the RV 👍

Peggy March 22, 2021 - 1:53 pm

Gene/I often did side trips when travelling in past. Have driven by Cullman, but never stopped to explored this find. What we did do one trip was in Montgomery, AL at The Legacy Museum, and National Memorial for Peace and Justice, the 1st memorial to victims of racial lynchings. Very powerful, sobering and moving. What’s your destination this trip?

Richie March 22, 2021 - 4:09 pm

So many great finds along the road!

Beth Daniels March 22, 2021 - 11:28 am

So on the road again for you two. The first picture up I thought you’d hit Europe! That was definitely one monk with a lot of time on his hands. He must not have been among those making the raisin bread.

Richie March 22, 2021 - 11:36 am

A very ambitious monk!

Gail March 22, 2021 - 11:09 am

Looks like a place to put on my bucket list

Richie March 22, 2021 - 11:35 am

It’s easy to find!

Deb reese March 22, 2021 - 10:54 am

Very cool- I’d never heard of this. What part of Alabama is this?

Richie March 22, 2021 - 11:34 am

The abbey is in Cullman, AL, between Decatur and Birmingham.

Andy March 22, 2021 - 12:05 pm

If you haven’t been to the Cuvil Rights Museum in Birmingham, definitely worth a side visit!

Richie March 22, 2021 - 12:10 pm

Thanks for the tip!!


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