The Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, in the state of Alabama, the United States, is home to a unique collection of miniature replicas of some of the most famous religious shrines and buildings of the world. It is located on the grounds of Saint Bernard Abbey, the state's only Benedictine monastery, and was built by Brother Joseph Zoettl over a period of 50 years, using discarded building supplies such as bricks, marbles, tiles, and cement, and decorating them with a variety of everyday items such as cold-cream jars, jewelry, and even toilet seats. The park occupies an area of 4 acres and contains 125 miniature reproductions.
Joseph Zoettel was born in Bavaria in 1878. He immigrated to the United States as a teenager, and began studying at the newly founded Benedictine monastery of St. Bernard, where he took his vows in 1897. Brother Joseph was not allowed to be ordained as a priest, due to the rule of the period that stated any man with a distracting disability could not be ordained a priest. Brother Joseph had been in an accident that left him slightly hunched. So he ran the monastery’s power plant and was, even by a monk's standards, a withdrawn, quiet man.
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