The Spring Break Chronicles: Day Three

Let me just go ahead and apologize for the length of this post. There was so much to tell about after seeing our day three destination: Ave Maria Grotto. I vaguely remember my Grandmother Calloway telling me one time that she had gone to “little Jerusalem”, but I really didn’t know what she was talking about. We have passed the sign a thousand times, so we decided we would check it out. Here’s the story. (Much of this info is taken from the materials distributed at the Abbey.)
The Ave Maria Grotto is on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama. The Abbey is the only Benedictine monestary of men in the state of Alabama, and it was founded in 1891. The Grotto is the handiwork of Brother Joseph Zoetl, a monk of the Abbey for almost 70 years. It consists of a landscaped hillside of 125 structures that are replicas of well-known and well-loved buildings around the world. Most, but not all, of the buildings are holy places: churches, places mentioned in the Bible, other Abbeys. Brother Joe started building the Grotto in 1912, and it opened the to the public in 1934. Brother Joe built his last building in 1958, when he was 80 years old. Brother Joe died in 1961, and is buried in the Abbey Cemetary, the final resting place of all the Benedictine monks of the Abbey.
When you enter the Grotto, the first thing you do is watch a short film that explains the work and passion of Brother Joe. It gives the history and tells what you will see.

The first replica is, appropriately, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus.
I found a cute little girl along the way. She was happy to be out of school for the day.
The next structure was the Tower of Thanks. It was built by Brother Joe to thank people for sending him materials to use in the building of the Grotto. Most of the cement, glass, bricks, etc., were donated from people all around the world.
St. Peter’s Shrine honors the chief apostle, St. Peter, the first pope. The word “Peter” means “rock”, hence the stone structure.
The Red Cross Tower was built to commemorate the work of the Red Cross during World War I.
These structures are replicas of the missions founded by the famous California missionary, Father Junipero Serra. They include the missions at San Juan Capistrano, Carmel, Santa Barbara, and others.
Remember the Alamo?
The Round Tower is a mysterious tower of stones in Newport, Rhode Island, perhaps built by 14th  century Irish missionaries.
St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome is the final resting place of St. Peter, the first pope. It is the largest churc in the world, covering four acres and holding 70,000 people.
A reconstruction of the aqueducts in Rome. The originals were built in the 3rd century, and were the method of bringing the water supply into the city.
Here is a statue of Brother Joseph Zoetl, creator of the Ave Maria Grotto, which sits in a garden in the Grotto.
This is the actual Ave Maria Grotto, the structure for which the entire Grotto is named. It is a tribute to Mary, the mother of Jesus. It is 27 feet high and 27 feet wide. Brother Joe made the stalactites which hang from the ceiling.
This is a replica of the city of Bethlehem.
A replica of the Temple in Jerusalem. The Temple was a place of sacrifice and worship for the Jews, including Jesus and early christians. Inside the Temple was the Holy of Holies, where the Ark of the Covenant conatining the original Ten Commandments was kept. The Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians in 587 B.C., and the Ark was never seen again. The Temple was rebuilt, but was destroyed by the Roman Empire in 70 A.D.
The tomb of Lazarus, Jesus’ friend and brother of Mary and Martha. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead after three days.
A miniature replica of Jacob’s Well, the place where Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman. He asked her for a drink of water and then told her that He came to provide Living Water.
The Pantheon was built by the Romans in 27 B.C. It was originally a temple to all the gods (the Romans were polytheistic, believing in many gods). Later it became, and still is, a church, a place of worship for the One True God.
The Colosseum was built as an open air theatre for entertaining the citizens of the Roman Empire. Early Christians were martyred there for their faith. Much of this structure remains intact in Rome today.
The Ten Commandments, given to Moses by God at Mt. Sinai.
The prophet Daniel is buried in this tomb in what is now Susa, Iran.
And just to show that Brother Joe had a little sense of humor, the lizard condo. I’m sure that condos were not around when Brother Joe built the Grotto, but I’d like to think that he would have thought this was funny.
This was a very interesting field trip. As you can see, it was a much more educational spring break excursion than normal, but the girls did enjoy it. I can’t help but think of how Brother Joe spent his entire life, really, on this project. Do you think he knew that in 2010, fifty years after his death, people would still be coming to Cullman to see his work?

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