Friday, June 28, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Sermons in Stone


Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.





This week’s Sepia Saturday photo of the Wombeyan Caves in New South Wales suggests caverns, caves, and grottos. 
Fred Slade 1948 Cullman, Alabama
Fred Slade 1948
St. Bernard's College, Cullman, Alabama




My dad’s first college experience was in 1948 at St. Bernard, a small Catholic college in Cullman, Alabama.  Daddy threw himself into his studies.  He often reflected on how much he enjoyed discussions of philosophy, literature, and religion with the Benedictine brothers who taught there. 











Fred Slade 1949 St. Bernard College, Cullman, Alabama
Fred Slade catching some rays while studying



Somewhere between studying, playing intramural basketball, and serving as a class officer, Daddy made time to visit the world-renown Ave Maria Grotto there on campus.  It was one of his favorite places.






Postcard of Ave Maria Grotto Cullman, Alabama
My dad's postcard of Ave Maria Grotto
produced by W. M. Cline Co, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Fred Slade and friends at Ave Maria Grotto, Cullman, Alabama 1948 or 1949
My dad is first on the left.  They are standing next to the main grotto,
a miniature cave featuring marble stalactites and statues
honoring the Virgin Mary.  It is the same gated feature
on the right of the postcard above.

This landscaped 4-acre park is in an old quarry located on the grounds of St. Bernard Abbey.  It contains 125 miniature reproductions of the world’s most famous religious buildings.  

Most of them are Roman Catholic cathedrals and monasteries like St. Peter’s Basilica, Montserrat Abbey, Carmel Mission in California, and Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes.  Also there are scenes of ancient Jerusalem, Noah’s Ark, and Tower of Babel.

The Ave Maria Grotto has been called "a sermon in stone."


Postcard of Ave Maria Grotto Cullman, AL
Basilica of St. Paul
postcard produced by W. M. Cline Co, Chattanooga, Tennessee

Postcard of Ave Maria Grotto Cullman, AL
Temple of Jerusalem and Some Buildings of the Palestinian Miniatures


But there are secular tributes, too, including the Alamo, Leaning Tower of Pisa, Hansel & Gretel’s Temple of the Fairies, and German Castles.  There is even a miniature of the St. Bernard Abbey power station.


Maybe Daddy took Granny to see the Ave Maria Grotto when she visited him in October 1948.  She sent this colorful postcard of the Grotto home to Granddaddy.

Postcard of Ave Maria Grotto sent by Julia Slade to Fred Slade 1948
Temple of Jerusalem and Some Buildings of the Palestinian Miniatures
On the back: Genuine Curteich-Chicago "C.T. Art-Colortone" Post Card

Postcard of Ave Maria Grotto sent by Julia Slade to Fred Slade Oct 1948

Sunday
Hello Dear
Having a wonderful time.  Sure wish you were here.  Leaving tomorrow AM.  Hope to see you Tuesday.
Love 
Julia





Collage of Ave Maria Grotto scanned from The Bernardian 1949
Collage of Ave Maria Grotto
scanned from The Bernardian 1949
Click to enlarge


The Grotto was the result of a 50-year hobby by Brother Joseph Zoettl, one of the brothers at St. Bernard.  It opened to the public in 1934 and Brother Joe added his last building in 1959. 

Brother Joe’s art was a model of recycling practices before recycling was cool.  He began the grotto with some marble that had been crushed when a train derailed in 1933 not far from Cullman.  The buildings were adorned with marbles, glass, broken tile, toothpaste caps, seashells, costume jewelry, and even toilet bowl floats.  Needless to say, the miniatures are quite detailed, albeit not always accurate or to scale. 







The work of Brother Joseph Zoettl is the subject of a documentary that will air sometime in the fall of this year.  He has been compared to St. Thérèse of Lisieux and St. Francis of Assisi, both of whom led small and quiet lives that have inspired others with their emphasis on simplicity.

It is quite possible that Daddy might have met Brother Joe since he lived at St. Bernard from 1892 until his death in 1961.

Here is one of many tours of the Ave Maria Grotto available on YouTube. (Do yourself a favor and turn the sound OFF.) 




Grab a flashlight and visit more caves, caverns, and maybe some grottos at Sepia Saturday.




© 2014, Wendy Mathias.  All rights reserved.

49 comments:

  1. Fantastic miniature models. What a great place and your dad was there!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I remember Daddy talking about the Grotto, but I never realized exactly what it was until I got out those old postcards.

      Delete
  2. This is all really fascinating. I enjoyed the tour!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Good -- I hope you left a tip. ;-)

      Delete
  3. Interesting set of pictures complemented by the tour. Some painstaking work would have been necessary to produce the miniatures.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When I read the descriptions, they sound rather hideous, but in some of the photos, the buildings are quite lovely. And yes, to have worked all those years on it was a real labor of love.

      Delete
    2. People do use a lot of found objects in making miniatures. I've only worked on dollhouses but it's so exciting to find a small object to repurpose. It must have been enjoyable to create all those small reproductions.

      Delete
    3. Kristin, My sister has a dollhouse that she is getting ready to work on. She's been looking for ideas on making the furnishings from odds'n'ends. One idea was using eyeshadow tins for baking pans.

      Delete
  4. Fascinating! I'd never heard of it before. Thanks for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm sure it's Cullman's only tourist attaction!

      Delete
  5. Amazing to think tht this was the work of one man; what dedication. Thanks for the warning about the music; I couldn't resist a quick burst!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeah that opening breathless singing is more than I can take. Then the following music is just monotonous. But I give them an E for Effort.

      I have to wonder if even Brother Joe grew weary of that project.

      Delete
  6. These are really interesting. In Southern California we have the Watts Towers also built by one determined man out of various scraps, bits and pieces. I'll never look with nonchalance at a toothpaste cap again.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, Helen, it's the little things.

      Delete
  7. The tour and history of the Grotto is wonderful and an amazing bit of information to know about Alabama, but I gotta say, the photo of your Dad and the post cards are real treasures. So special that they were saved and the one from Julia is priceless. I bet you had a great time studying them and putting this post together. A great prompt from Sepia Saturday led to a great post.

    Sue CollectInTexasGal~Today's Post~
    Fridays Faces...Minister of Scriptures

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I did enjoy this post because I finally got a good look at what Daddy had talked about years ago. I had always imagined a gnarly, rocky outcropping of sorts, never a religious display. Having the photo of him AT the grotto plus the postcards made it all very exciting to study.

      Delete
  8. What an extraordinary place! I found some images online, much easier on the eye and ear than the Youtube. I love the card "....Having a wonderful time. Sure wish you were here...." They should print that on cards to save having to write it !

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I think Granny missed the window of opportunity to get a patent on that phrase. She could've been rich suing the pants off all future travelers.

      Delete
  9. I enjoyed the video. The grotto is a fascinating example of folk art.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It must be fun to see in person.

      Delete
  10. Thanks for the tour- I enjoyed the video. Great post!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Extraordinary dedication from one man. We have a similar idea here in Tauranga, the Te Puna Quarry Park, but that is the result of work by a huge team of volunteers. Coinsidentally, I was this week chatting to an elderly man who used to operate a photographic studio in the town for many years, and he is a stalwart of the volunteer group.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks for linking the Te Puna website. What a contrast between the lush gardens today and the pictures of the early days there. It must be a popular spot for weddings! The statue of the garden lady made of reclaimed objects is probably my favorite.

      Delete
    2. Yes isn't that statue/sculpture delightful - of course, we've had our photos taken next to her!

      Delete
  12. I am always fascinated by people who are compelled to create places like this grotto.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I can't imagine sustaining a hobby for 50 years. Of course, maybe there was some level of pressure from the abbey. I don't know.

      Delete
  13. Quite fascinating. I had never heard of the place before. I agree with Postcardy, it looks like folk art at its best.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I doubt many people have heard of Cullman, Alabama, period.

      Delete
  14. This looks so much fun. I'd love to go here and see what it's like.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think it would take a visit in person to really appreciate the work that went into it. I doubt the pictures do it justice.

      Delete
  15. The Grotto, so very interesting, as well as the video. Gee your dad was lucky, and what a great place to study, if you could keep your attention on your studies, right.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Karen. Daddy must've kept focused enough since he went on to graduate from the University of Virginia. At least in that picture he put on a good show of it!

      Delete
  16. Thanks for very interesting post...as well as hint about the music on the video. (I wasn't as pleased to have your mention of "Small World" in a comment on another post, so it started going round and round and round in my head. I guess there's a permanent rail in my head that it was carved into the one time I took my kids through that Disney ride....never again!)
    I've either seen the Grotto, or something very like it somewhere. Buried memories from the south.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I know what you mean about -ahem-THAT tune because we couldn't shake it during a day-and-a-half drive home from Disney World back in 1995. Sorry to have messed up your morning with that, but you know misery loves company! HA!

      Delete
  17. Wendy, Twas and interesting post and pictures. When we lived near Portland, Oregon ( for one very long year) I often drove by the Grotto there -- but never took the time to really check it out. Your post reminds me that I should have taken the time.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This seems to be a common trait among all people -- they go AWAY for a vacation forgetting there are gems right in their backyard.

      Delete
  18. I really enjoy posts where when family history is combined with educational history (and to think I hated history at school).

    Not sure why but this reminded me of a story that my father told me about a man made tunnel to divert the flow of a river and a fishing trip that ended up in snake bite. I could have told that this week but will save it for another day. I can't really see snakes being a prompt though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll be alert to that story some day. I'm intrigued thinking how this story made you think of it.

      Delete
  19. Thank you for explaining all of these pictures that I had seen, but was clueless. You are so smart.

    Daddy was handsome. I sure miss him.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Your post sent me looking up the Watts Towers and on the Wiki post there's a list at the bottom of examples of vernacular architecture. Then I had to start looking these all up.........

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Watts_Towers

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Why did you do that? Now I have to look them up!! LOL "Vernacular architecture" - fancy term.

      Delete
  21. This is a fascinating place I'd never heard of. I'm wondering if he created these from photos or memory. I'm guessing he didn't do much traveling so perhaps he had a subscription to National Geographic.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My research on Brother Joe indicates he did not get to travel because of his vocation, but he had postcards from his parents' travels. I'm sure the school library was helpful too.

      Delete
  22. A great series, and to my taste,
    I must say the Jerusalem mission is the one I've preferred.
    Interesting spin on the theme
    and funny that we both touched quarries and recycling,
    sort of...
    :D~
    HUGZ

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I noticed too that we both had quarries and recycling. Feather-brains flock together. ;-)

      Delete