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Visiting Jerusalem Right Here in the United States

Updated on October 21, 2016
Shyron E Shenko profile image

Shyron is a retired Customer Service Rep. for Verizon. Colleges attended: Triton, Melrose Park, Illinois and Elgin, in Elgin, Illinois.

The City of Jerusalem

About 50 miles north of Birmingham is the town of Cullman, in the State of Alabama, there is an exquisitely landscaped park and garden, hewn out of the walls of an old rock quarry which is on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey, is the city of Jerusalem.

A miniature of the Holy City, crafted from stone, glass, marble, and concrete and other materials, sent from all around the world, by all different people from all walks of life, who had heard of the little city of Jerusalem in the USA.

Taken in August 1977 - The City of Jerusalem Please note the pansy patch in the lower right corner, the blossoms are as big as a house.
Taken in August 1977 - The City of Jerusalem Please note the pansy patch in the lower right corner, the blossoms are as big as a house. | Source
My Aunt Irene "Rene" Bartlett who at one time was the Cullman County Nurse
My Aunt Irene "Rene" Bartlett who at one time was the Cullman County Nurse | Source

Visiting Aunt Rene

My Aunt Irene Bartlett was the Cullman County, Alabama nurse and all the nieces and nephews loved to visit Aunt Rene and Uncle Jose. Every summer they would have two or three of us visiting for weeks at a time.

Aunt Irene (Aunt Rene the kids all called her) use to take us to places in and around the area where she lived in Cullman. She would take us to Teen Town, a store front room with a juke box, where teens could go to dance, talk with other teens or just hang out.

She would take us swimming in Sportsman's lake. But my favorite by far was ‘Little Jerusalem’ or also known as the ‘Ava Maria Grotto.’ (i.e. Little Jerusalem in the Ava Maria Grotto.) Little Jerusalem is an exact replica of the Holy City in the Holy Land, right here in the United States of America.

Sportsman's Lake Park
Sportsman's Lake Park | Source
Ave Maria Grotto - Picture taken August 1977
Ave Maria Grotto - Picture taken August 1977 | Source

The Ave Maria Grotto Dedicated

Brother Joseph Zoetti, was born in 1878 in the Bavarian town of Landshut.

In 1892 Brother Joseph Zoetti immigrated to the United States and at the age of 14 became one of the first students of Saint Bernard Abbey, in Cullman, Alabama and decided sometime later to become a Benedictine Monk.

Having been assigned Kitchen duty in Saint Bernard Abbey until 1910 when Brother Joseph Zoetti developed his hobby of building miniature shrines. And he built miniature Grottoes of the store that sold in the gift shop of Saint Bernard. The monies from the sale of the miniture shrines funded the construction of the Ave Maria Grotto.

As the number of tourist and visitors increased the recreational grounds had become so overcrowded by people wanting to view the miniature replicas that had been erected around the monastery grounds, it was decided to move the ‘sermons in stone’ and the 125 miniature village replicas to the abandoned rock quarry of the bluff of Eight Mile Creek, and May 17, 1934 the Ave Maria Grotto was dedicated.

Grotto of the Little Flower in tribute to Saint Theresa (Martin)/The little Flower, 1873 -September 30th 1897.
Grotto of the Little Flower in tribute to Saint Theresa (Martin)/The little Flower, 1873 -September 30th 1897. | Source

Little Jerusalem became his life.

Brother Joseph was a hunchback as a result of an accident, but did not hinder his ability to bend over and build the miniatures.

Before Brother Joseph had decided on the type of building materials he would use to continue building his miniature villages, on April 29th 1933 a partial solution presented itself when an L&N railroad was derailed near Vinemont, Alabama, which was about twenty miles away from Vinemont, Alabama. One freight car was full of marble that came from Sylacauga, Alabama’s Gantt Quarry. When the train was derailed the freight car with the marble turned over and the marble was so crushed, the owner no longer had any use for it and he gave it to Saint Bernard Abbey.

The pieces of marble carted down to Saint Bernard by the monks, was exactly what Brother Joseph needed as the main stalactites to hang in the Great Grotto.

Other materials such as broken bathroom tile, colored glass, costume jewelry shells, rocks, chandelier prisms and beads, were donated by people from all over the United States and many foreign countries who had seen and admired to beauty of Brother Joseph’s previous works. With materials sent from all over the world. Brother Joseph continued his work for more than 40 years. One of Brother Joseph's last works included glass pieces set in cement, an American flag, and a replica of the World's Peach Church in Hiroshima, Japan, and at the age of 80 in 1958, Brother Joseph built a replica of the Basilica in Lourdes, which was his last masterpiece.

Saint Peter's Church in Rome - This work of art was started in 1954 - You can see the date on a round stone.  Brother Zoettl dated the beginning of his later works.
Saint Peter's Church in Rome - This work of art was started in 1954 - You can see the date on a round stone. Brother Zoettl dated the beginning of his later works. | Source

The first and only Abbey in the State of Alabama

The first and only Benedictine Abbey in the state of Alabama is home to the Ave Maria Grotto with the replicas of not only the Holy City but also 125 miniatures of famous churches, shrines building and Old World reproductions, in an area of over three acres. The Ave Maria Grotto is a miniature fairyland that has visitors from all over the world. And, continues to amaze students of architecture to this day

The original Little Jerusalem buildings are the first group of miniatures that Brother Joseph made. Many have been reproduced in other parts of the Grotto.

Some of the other miniatures honor The Nativity of Our Lord, the Red Cross Tower, a shrine in honor of Pope Pius XII, the Alamo, St. Theresa, the Little Flower, St. Peter's Rome, the Temple of Jerusalem, The Tower of Babel, Noah's Ark, the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, Lourdes Basilica, Our Lady of Fatima Group, and Southwest Missions.

More detailed information can be found in the book titled Miniature Miracle by John Morris sold in the Grotto gift shop.

Brother Joseph completed over 60 years of monastic life in St. Bernard Abbey. He died peacefully in his sleep on Sunday, October 15, 1961. He is buried in the Abbey Cemetery with a simple cross bearing his name

You need to allow 2 to 3 hours to really enjoy this unique and tranquil attraction.

Visiting the Ava Maria Grotto/Little Jerusalem

My visits to the Ava Maria Grotto/Little Jerusalem made such an impression on me when I was a child. I felt like I was walking in the Holy City itself.

All the information and the pictures I kept from years ago when visiting my Aunt Rene and she took us to see this beautiful creation.

I wish that everyone could see the architecture and attention to detail of the replicas of religious buildings from all over the world and especially Jerusalem.


The Tower of Babel and Noahs Ark I believe this picture was taken later in the year of 1977, because the leaves had changed color.
The Tower of Babel and Noahs Ark I believe this picture was taken later in the year of 1977, because the leaves had changed color. | Source
A replica of Lourdes Basilica in France
A replica of Lourdes Basilica in France | Source
A replica of San Juan Capistrano
A replica of San Juan Capistrano | Source

Known throughout the world as "Jerusalem in Miniature,"

Source: Brochures from my many visits to this beautiful serene garden.

Ave Maria Grotto 1600 - St. Bernard Drive, SE - Cullman, AL 35055

256-734-4110 - 256-734-4110 ext. 7180 Group Tours
256-737-8768 - Fax

Open daily from 9am to 5pm

Admission. Regular. Adults, $7.00.

Children 6-12, $4.50.

Sr. Citizens, $5.00.

Jerusalem, My Destiny

© 2013 Shyron E Shenko

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    • Robert Sacchi profile image

      Robert Sacchi 6 months ago

      This is really fantastic. The pictures are great. Thank you for sharing the information about these wonderful minatures.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 22 months ago from Texas

      Barbara, thank you for the comment, it is a must see place.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 22 months ago from Texas

      Thanks Al for the comment and compliment to my Aunt Rene, she was definitely a unique and wonderful person.

      Blessings to you my friend.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 22 months ago from Texas

      Au fait, thank you for comment and sharing.

      I wish I make the weather nicer for you, but we all must endure what God bestows on us.

      We prefer it warm, not blistering hot like yesterday. I think I burned up the mower yesterday and we can't afford a new one.

      I hope that all is well with you.

      Take care....

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Kay Badder 23 months ago from USA

      Now you've got me wanting to visit this. It sounds like a must see place.

    • word55 profile image

      Word 23 months ago from Chicago

      Thanks Shyron E, this was very informative. Having a replica if Jerusalem in the U.S. has to be a treasured sight. I'd like to visit the whole place some day. All your pictures captured the essence of being in the presence of great history. Your aunt was a super woman. Love is a captivating essence here as well. Thanks for sharing! God bless!

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 23 months ago from North Texas

      Came by to share the work of this incredible artist again. Most people travel in the summer and so I thought they might read this and add this interesting place to their itinerary.

      Got up to 90 here according to reports, and I'm sure it was hotter where you are. Fought with my computer all day from the get-go and I'd say the score is about 50/50, but I can't give up.

      Hope you and John are enjoying the warm weather since you prefer it. I would be happy if it never got hotter than 65. Take care . . .

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 2 years ago from Texas

      Thank you Au fait, for the comments and compliments, and sharing.

      I do hope everything is going well for you. Have a blessed evening.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      This is another of my favorite articles that you have written. This sculptor that you are writing about and his magnificent work are awesome and I hope everyone who travels in the area where it is will take time to see it. I know I would if I could. Sharing.

      Hope you are having a good night. Blessings and hugs for you and John. Hope to talk again soon.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 2 years ago from Texas

      Au fait, thank you for pinning to AH, posting on FB, and sharing on HP.

      I would love to go back and visit again.

      God Bless you also

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 2 years ago from North Texas

      Thought I'd visit this good article of yours again since the holidays aren't far away. This would be a good time for anyone planning a Christmas vacation to think about putting this amazing place on their list of things to see and do.

      Pinned to AH, posted on FB, and sharing on HP. Hope you and John are having a good week. God bless . .

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Thank you Peggy, I am so glad you enjoyed reading about Little Jerusalem. Yes, Brother Joseph did leave a wondrous legacy. He found his calling and followed through.

      Yes my aunt was beautiful, thank you for the compliment. Thank you also for the comment, votes, sharing and pinning.

      Shyron

    • Peggy W profile image

      Peggy Woods 3 years ago from Houston, Texas

      I really enjoyed reading this and learning about what is called Little Jerusalem in the state of Alabama. Brother Joseph certainly left a wondrous legacy! Your aunt was a beautiful woman BTW. All up votes except funny and I'll be pinning this.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Thank you Barbara, for you up votes. Yes this is amazing, I loved to visit her, at that time I don't think they charged for children.

      I am so glad I found the pictures.

    • Barbara Kay profile image

      Barbara Kay Badder 3 years ago from USA

      If I ever get to travel that way, I am going to be sure to make this one of our stops. It looks incredible. My daughter lived in Alabama for a few years, so I wish I had seen this back then.

      I voted this up.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      I would love to visit Little Jerusalem again, not just because of the beauty, but I have never experienced the peacefulness anywhere else I have.

      Thank you my friend Au fait, for the votes up and sharing this again. I hope you have a nice day at school/work.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 3 years ago from North Texas

      This man's work is so amazing. I wish I had the time/money to visit this place. This is such an excellent article and perfect for any time of the year, but especially now at Christmas. Only 2 weeks and 2 days and it will all be over again for another year. :(

      Voted up, BAUI, and sharing again in case someone missed this superb hub!

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Thank you Suzanne for the up votes plus and sharing this, I am glad you liked it.

    • justmesuzanne profile image

      justmesuzanne 3 years ago from Texas

      Very cool! Voted up, interesting, awesome and shared! :)

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Thank you Au fait for sharing, voting up +++, In the times that we went to Little Jerusalem, I have never tired of looking at the beauty and art of this brillant artist.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 3 years ago from North Texas

      This man's work is so amazing that I just had to come back and take another look. Also want to share it because it is so incredible and a great article for the holiday season. Up, interesting, and awesome, too!

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Thank you Jo, for the compliment, up votes, tweet and sharing.

      I do hope you get to visit this beautiful and peaceful place. My brothers, cousins and I got to visit when we went to visit Aunt Rene when she lived in Cullman.

    • Jo_Goldsmith11 profile image

      Jo_Goldsmith11 3 years ago

      Thank you for sharing this, and the pictures are just beautiful!

      I am so glad I stopped by to read. One day I may visit this as I don't know when I could make it to Israel, and see the holy city. Excellent job. Shared, tweet & up +++

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Thank you for reading my hub JPSO138. You never know what the future holds for any of us. Hope you were not harmed by the Hurricane.

    • JPSO138 profile image

      JPSO138 3 years ago from Cebu, Philippines, International

      Very interesting hub. I did not know that there is such place. Though I may never have the chance to visit this but the great thing is I see it by reading your hub.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Thank you starstream for your kind words and for reading my hub. I appreciate your visit.

    • starstream profile image

      Dreamer at heart 3 years ago from Northern California

      I read your hub with great interest and awe for the creator of all these wonderful reproductions. My interests in art history as well as creative arts were satisfied by reading your hub. Thanks so much for sharing. This certainly should become a magazine article!

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Thank you Au fait for re-visiting this hub, and for commenting, up-votes, sharing and pinning. You are a truly an amazing friend.

      I was visiting Walter and Snow so have not been on here much today.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 3 years ago from North Texas

      Really enjoy this article. You have so many interesting hubs and I know when you publish a new one it's going to be well researched and informative/interesting. The photos in this one are especially amazing.

      Voted up, BAI, already pinned to my 'Travel' board, but now I've also pinned it to my 'Christmas' board, and will share again.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Denise, I truly appreciate you visit, your up-vote and sharing.

      Yes Aunt Rene was special and she did not have children of her own, so she spoiled everybody else's children.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Thank you rt (rtburroughs2) appreciate the comment and the share. Little Jerusalem is the most peaceful place, I have ever been. I hope you and your family enjoy it as much as I did.

    • Denise Handlon profile image

      Denise Handlon 3 years ago from North Carolina

      What an informative hub about this amazing place. I had no idea this was in the deep south. Up/I/U/A and sharing. Your Aunt Rene sounds like she really understood and connected with all of you.

    • rtburroughs2 profile image

      Robert Burroughs 3 years ago

      This was really a great article, from the beginning I wanted to visit the Grotto. Great call to action there, and leaving the contact information at the end is something I appreciated. I am going to share this on my page so that it will be bookmarked. I live in Florida now and Alabama is only a few hours away.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Yes Aunt Jimi, Little Jerusalem is an awesome place to visit, my favorite when I was a little girl.

      Thank you very much for the up votes, comments and sharing.

    • Aunt Jimi profile image

      Aunt Jimi 3 years ago from The reddest of the Red states!

      I love the photos you added! They are excellent. This place must be an amazing experience. Voted awesome AGAIN, and shared. Also interesting and beautiful.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      I finally found my pictures of Little Jerusalem!

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Aunt Jimi, thank you for the up votes and sharing.

      There are a lot of interesting places to see in Alabama and hope you get the chance to see Little Jerusalem.

    • Aunt Jimi profile image

      Aunt Jimi 3 years ago from The reddest of the Red states!

      I'll bet Jerusalem in Miniature is amazing to see. If I ever get to Alabama again I will make a point of visiting this exhibit. Voted up, awesome, beautiful, and interesting. Sharing with my followers.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Thank you lyricwriter, for the compliment, comments, up vote and for sharing. I really and truly appreciate you.

      I will go back to Little Jerusalem if/when I go back to visit, but Aunt Rene is gone, my grandmother is gone, but I have cousins by the dozens who live there.

    • thelyricwriter profile image

      Richard Ricky Hale 3 years ago from West Virginia

      Shyron, sounds like the place to be!! You did a great job writing about it, already have me wanting to go. I love stories of success and in their own right, they achieved very much. Voted up, useful, awesome, interesting, and shared. Best wishes, great writing.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Thank you Au fait, It is amazing and would go and visit again if I were there. Thank you also for the up votes and sharing, and most of all thank you for your loyalty and friendship for all these years.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 3 years ago from North Texas

      I think this would be such an interesting place to visit. It has to be amazing. Voting this up and interesting again and sharing.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 3 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Visiting Jerusalem Right Here in the United States an interesting write up here and I am so glad t o have stopped to learn something new from your informative hub. Voted up and useful.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Leslie, I looked for your hub on the Ave Maria Grotto and could not find it. Is it still featured???

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Lesliebyars, thank you for your comment. It was your article

      Cathedral Caverns Bat Cave: Woodville, Alabama, that reminded of the Ave Maria Grotto. I started looking for pictures and found the brochure and a one picture of the entrance to Ruby Falls.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Thank you Au fait for your comments, up-votes, pinning and sharing.

      Yes Brother Joseph was an amazing man. If I ever go back to Alabama I would go back and visit.

      Aunt Rene died in 2001, and I haven't been back.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image
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      Shyron E Shenko 3 years ago from Texas

      Thank you Au fait for your comments, up-votes, pinning and sharing.

      Yes Brother Joseph was an amazing man. If I ever go back to Alabama I would go back and visit.

      Aunt Rene died in 2001, and I haven't been back.

    • lesliebyars profile image

      Buster Johnson 3 years ago from Alabama

      I also wrote a hub about Ava Marie Grato. I've been a few times it is so amazing with it's mini displays.

    • lesliebyars profile image

      Buster Johnson 3 years ago from Alabama

      I also wrote a hub about Ava Marie Grato. I've been a few times it is so amazing with it's mini displays.

    • Au fait profile image

      C E Clark 3 years ago from North Texas

      Sounds like Joseph Zoeitti was a very talented man. Would love to see his work. I'm sure it's amazing. Voted up, AI, pinned to my 'Travel' board, and will share.

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