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Connecticut River Valley, New England, United States

Monday, February 20, 2017

Ave Maria Grotto, Chapman Covered Bridge and Hello to Tupelo

Quality Inn Tupelo Mississippi 720PM Monday Feb 20 Hi Trekkies! I never remember how I put the header on the email--but I guess as long as place, town, time, day and date are there the important poop is all included. One thing about this CST time zone, I'm going to bed earlier and rising earlier. Also, slowly but surely, I'm getting back into walking and breathing shape. Last night I woke up at 1130 and thought I'd only been in bed a half hour, though I felt as though I'd been sleeping forever. THEN, I remembered that my Masterpiece programs that would have ended at 11 at home and I would have turned out the light and gone to sleep, actually ended at 10! So, I'd already slept an hour and a half. Got up at 7 and felt fit as a fiddle. Got to breakfast by 730 and we were on the road in town by 830. I had looked at the listing of local sites in the motel directory and found the info on the Ave Maria Grotto. In 1891 the Benedictine monks established St Bernard Abbey to serve the German Catholics of Northern Alabama. They purchased a log cabin and 160 acres of land at $2 an acre. Over time they quarried the rock to build various buildings resulting in a campus containing a magnificent church, a college preparatory school for boys, a retreat house, an abbey and, of course, a gift shop! Actually, the gift shop probably arose from what developed in the old quarry. About the time the purchase of cabin and land in Cullman, Alabama, a Benedictine monk returned to Europe to recruit young men for the Abbey. Among them was a young, very small, sickly young fellow from Landshut, Bavaria. His name was Michael Zoettl, soon to become Brother Joseph Zoettl. He cried all night the night before he was to leave Bavaria for America but he later said he learned the meaning of homesickness many years later in Stonega, Va. Probably at the time, when as a housekeeper, a fellow monk told him the food he prepared was poison and went so far as to check the stove ashes to see if any had been removed and added to the pot. Now, there was a real Benedictine --very brotherly--but then though religious they are still human and some humans are kinder than others. I suspect, that along with being physically frail, that Brother Joseph may not have been the smartest among the Abbey residents. He was posted all over the South as housekeeper---two postings in Alabama, one in Tennessee , two in Virginia. But, finally, after nineteen years, Joseph was recalled to Cullman. He was put in charge of the new powerhouse and worked seventeen hour days including Sundays, hardly managing to attend Mass. To relax in what little time he had to himself he returned to the hobby he had pursued in the past--the building of miniature buildings. I started with a church he built in cement and then moved to small oriental buildings he called Little Jerusalem. He set them out in the recreation area. A visiting priest saw them and brought some friends to see them. Soon, another priest asked Joseph to built grottos or caves to accommodate some small statues he'd purchased. Joseph thought that would be the end of it, but this enterprising Brother sold the statues and their grottoes, bought some more statues, and pressed Joseph into building more grottoes. Father Dominic was in business and Joseph's hobby was not a job--after building 5000 small grottoes, the Abbot got the brilliant idea to set Joseph up in the old quarry! And the first thing he built was a 25ft high, by 25ft wide, by 25 ft deep grotto with hand made stalactites, an altar made of marble and ground shell ect. A statue of Mary holding the Christ Child was installed and statues of the twins--Benedict and Scholastica--place in front of her. The twins between them established the Benedictine orders of Brothers and Nuns. These orders still live life following the Rule of Benedict, established in the fourth century with adaptions over time for modern life. For the remainder of his life, which ended at 83 years old in 1961, Brother Joseph created 125 miniatures of famous buildings of Jerusalem and Bethlehem from the days of Christ from birth to death on the cross, churches of the Franciscan missions in California and Texas, ancient churches and castles of Europe, buildings representing fairy tales, and others I cannot remember. They exist now in the quarry that has become a landscaped hillside with a walkway wending through the structures made my a man without any architectural training. He used chicken wire and found objects with cement and pumice. One church utilizies blue ink bottles to create a beautiful blue glass cross. Another uses two discarded toilet floats to make the tops of the domes on its two towers. Yet another uses ten cold cream jars for tables ect. Marbles and shells and shards of broken dishes are used throughout as well as small tiles. The details are amazing. After spending two hours meandering among these small buildings that represented more than 40 years of this man's life we left Cullman behind and headed west toward Mississippi and Tupelo. Along the way we stopped at the Coleman Covered Bridge--just a beautiful lacy lattice work of art in its own right. Passed right through what must have been a bloody skirmish in which the Union soldiers were driven North by the Rebel cavalry. For a time it was just us and four tractor trailers moving in tandem Westward on a two lane road. Have not a clue why it became a four lane in Hamilton since there was no more there than any other town--must be a Senator lives there! Having already made our reservation at the Quality Inn, we decided to swing North and come into Tupelo on the Natchez Trace, rather than drive through the heart of town. Stopped at Logan's Steakhouse for an early dinner and then checked in to our familiar one room non-suite--though it is quite roomy and not at all like an old motel room--closet sized! I tried to upload the Ave pix but there are 200 and the internet here is quite slow. I'd be here next week still trying to get them uploaded. So, they will come when I can get them up more quickly. I'm a bit disappointed, because, though it was fairly early morning and the sun was not really bright and glaring yet, many of the pix are more washed-out than I'd like. But still, I think you'll get a feel for the work of this remarkable, simple, artistic man. I hope you will appreciate it, though to see it in person is much more impressive. Oh, by the way, the sun did become bright and blinding and the temperature rose to 79 degrees at one point. Too hot, really! Well, no worthwhile TV tonight--Bill is watching some college basketball game. I'm going to dig out my Women's Choir book--I'm almost finished it. Thank you for your emails--I try to answer them as soon as I get them but sometimes I have to wait until the day is done. In the meantime, stay warm or dry or cool, whatever the case may be, but, always, stay safe. Until tomorrow and the twinkling bridges over the Mississippi between Natchez and Vidalia, Louisiana, good night, KandB

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