This Bible Belt city is rich in religious sites.
Probably the best known religious site in Birmingham is EWTN, the Eternal Word Television Network, founded by Mother Mary Angelica in 1981. The world’s first Catholic cable network, EWTN broadcasts a great variety of programs to more than 230 million households in 140 countries. Also a vision of Mother Mary Angelica’s is Our Lady of the Angels Monastery Farm in nearby Cullman. Home to the Poor Clare nuns, the monastery includes 35 hand-crafted German stained glass windows and a 250-seat chapel.
Plan to have lunch at the Ave Maria Grotto built by Brother Joseph Zoetti, a Bavarian hunchback monk, who created this brilliant work over a period of 50 years. The grotto includes some of the world’s most famous religious sites in miniature; St. Peter’s Basilica and old Bethlehem are among the detailed structures crafted of tile, pipe, shells and even coconuts. “Brother Joseph and the Grotto” is a recently released documentary that tells the story of the tiny monk’s life work.
Back in Birmingham, afternoon tours are available of the magnificent Cathedral of Saint Paul, the mother church of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Birmingham in Alabama. Designed by Chicago architect Adolphus Druiding, the Victorian Gothic building first served as a parish church and was elevated to Cathedral status in 1969. Tours include interesting stories of the murder of a parish priest and the tragic death of the cathedral’s contractor.
Second day pilgrimage tours might include a visit to Caritas of Birmingham, a community in Sterrett, just outside Birmingham. In 1988, a 23-year-old Marija Pavlovic of the former Yugoslavia, now Bosnia-Herzegovina, arrived in Birmingham to donate a kidney for her brother’s transplant operation at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. No ordinary visitor, Pavlovic was one of six people from the tiny village of Medjugorje who claimed the Virgin Mary began appearing to them in 1981.
During her 53 days in Alabama, Pavlovic stayed with friend in Sterrett and almost every day reported “visitations” from the Virgin Mary. Throngs of pilgrims from around the country descended on the tiny farm community hoping to catch a glimpse of the young woman. Pavlovic (now married with the last name Lunetti) returns to Birmingham generally once a year, and the fame of the small community of Sterrett has spread. Though the site and the claimed visitations are not recognized by the Catholic Church, a group of devout believers has developed a communal lifestyle around the reported holy visits. The alliance is called Caritas, Latin for love of all people. A huge stone and stained glass structure, the Tabernacle of Our Lady’s Messages, is the centerpiece of the community. Across the road, a statue of the Virgin Mary stands alone in a great open field. Residents and pilgrims gather there for prayers several times each day.
The trip back into Birmingham requires a meal at Lloyd’s on the Hwy. 280 return route. The spacious restaurant has been making diners happy since 1937 and continues to serve up good Southern cooking at reasonable prices.
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