Top Pick: And Jesus was born

IT TOOK postman Michal Hanzlík from the western town of Nové Mesto nad Váhom more than 20 years to construct the nativity scene that is now on display in Trenčín Museum.
He started with paper and fabric, and later switched to wood. First he created the holy family and then he gradually enlarged the scene, eventually depicting the entire town of Bethlehem. Local children used to come to watch the development of the model, which he finished creating around 1950. Twenty years later, after he had died, the work ended up in a local museum.
Hanzlík's extremely detailed nativity structure also moves, telling stories from the Bible by setting in motion mechanical figures and lighting different scenes.


HANZLÍK'S mechanical nativity scene works again after 30 years in storage.
photo: Jozef Karlík

IT TOOK postman Michal Hanzlík from the western town of Nové Mesto nad Váhom more than 20 years to construct the nativity scene that is now on display in Trenčín Museum.

He started with paper and fabric, and later switched to wood. First he created the holy family and then he gradually enlarged the scene, eventually depicting the entire town of Bethlehem. Local children used to come to watch the development of the model, which he finished creating around 1950. Twenty years later, after he had died, the work ended up in a local museum.

Hanzlík's extremely detailed nativity structure also moves, telling stories from the Bible by setting in motion mechanical figures and lighting different scenes.

However, because the model had been in storage for 30 years and had been constructed in an unusual way, Hanzlík's fellow townsman Marián Mikulec (who built a large mechanical nativity scene himself) had quite a hard time restoring it and bringing it back to life.

"It used to have its own character, you know. That's why it wasn't possible to reconstruct some of the parts," says Jozef Karlík, director of Podjavorinské Museum in Nové Mesto nad Váhom, which usually houses the work.

Hanzlík's 3.5 by 1.5 metre nativity scene was recently moved to the nearby town of Trenčín, where it is now part of a local exhibition of around 20 nativity scenes from the Trenčín region. The scenes were created by various professional and amateur artists using materials ranging from wood, ceramics and painted glass to cornhusk, dough and wire.

"It's interesting to watch how each of these artists and lay people imagine the birth of Jesus. Each scene is a bit different," says Katarína Babičová, director of the Trenčín Museum, where the exhibition will run until the end of January.

While some works capture only the nativity scene - Mary and Joseph kneeling next to the baby Jesus - others depict the entire town of Bethlehem. Some come from the permanent collections of museums in the region and others are recent works by regional folk artists.

"Hanzlík constructed his nativity scene during the time when such things were not common [during communism religion was suppressed - ed.note]," Karlík says.

"And since it was the only nativity scene in the town, it used to be a great attraction for children. [For hours] they would stand and watch the bell-ringer ringing, a trumpeter announcing the arrival of midnight and lambs baahing."

The exhibition runs Tue-Fri 9:00-17:00 and Sat-Sun 9:00-16:00 until January 31. Admission: Sk6-10. Trenčianske múzeum (Trenčín Museum), Mierové nám. 46. Tel: 032/7434-431.

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