This Exit: Ave Maria Grotto

Living in Louisville the decade prior, I often drove I-65 South from Kentucky’s largest city to my native Alabama. Obvious landmarks, such as Nashville’s skyline and Birmingham’s Vulcan statue, dot the route. Others are more hidden, which I discovered the time I took the interstate exit for Cullman, Alabama.

Located between Huntsville and Birmingham, the city is home to the Ave Maria Grotto, (see photo below) located on the grounds of the St. Bernard Abbey, the only Benedictine monastery of men in Alabama. I’d read about the grotto when I studied Alabama history in ninth grade, but for whatever reason, had never visited the place. My first question after the tour: What took so long?

The grotto, a landscaped hillside of 125 small stone and cement sculptures, is certainly beautiful, but the man and story behind the work of art are fascinating. Brother Joseph Zoetl, who served as a monk of the abbey for nearly 70 years, was the visionary and creator of this unique setting, which took him decades to build. Born in Bavaria in 1878, he relocated to Alabama in 1892 (and I thought I had a major move shifting from Kentucky to California!). Zoetl constructed miniature reproductions of famous buildings and sites, using donated pottery shards, marbles, costume jewelry, pebbles, and even seashells. Since 1934, word of mouth has attracted admirers, who, perhaps, took the same exit as I did to see his creation.

During my afternoon visit six years ago, I strolled the two-block pathway lined with incredible folk art. Zoetl’s passion and imagination helped him bring to life many faraway places to the grotto: Bethlehem, Rome, an abbey in Barcelona, The Statue of Liberty, The Leaning Tower of Pisa. Heck, even The Alamo! Brother Zoetl made his transition in 1961, but left behind a lasting legacy.

From time to time, a psychic intuitive client of mine may cite lack of money, family support, education, etc., as barriers to accomplishing goals. Zoetl’s inspiring story, with his limited resources, is a reminder that we can create and manifest whatever we desire.

In other words: Name your grotto!

Love and light,



Ave Maria Grotto in Cullman, Alabama



4 thoughts on “This Exit: Ave Maria Grotto

  1. Rosemary Carter

    A very nice tribute to a remarkable man. Since my brother migrated to north Alabama in the 1960’s, the grotto exit has been a favorite stopping place for us on our trips to visit him and his family. We’ve enjoyed the site on many occasions and always receive inspiration. Thanks for sharing!

    1. Tony Post author

      Isn’t it a wonderful place? How fortunate that you’ve been there many times. During my visit, I was there for nearly two hours, but could have easily stayed longer. Take care 🙂

  2. Pamela Driskell Chavez

    Interesting that you write about this. I too have passed this exit many times going to Wheeler State Park and Nashville. The next time I’m that way I will try and make time for a visit. It must be a beautiful site.

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