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Czech Republic – the land of master nativity scene makers

photo:  (czechtourism.com)

In the Christian world, Christmas nativity scenes or crèches have been created for centuries. From the very beginning they became a symbolic reminder of the day when Jesus was born. No matter where the nativity scene comes from the key motive is the baby Jesus, accompanied by his mother Mary and her husband Joseph. Then, depending on circumstances and also on fantasy, more biblical figures are added.

The tradition of Christmas nativity scene making in the Czech lands is very old, and remains very strong and vital even in the present time. The first nativity scene creations arrived in Bohemia with the Jesuits in the 16th century. They were usually displayed in churches and did not become a part of the household environment until the end of the 18th century. Most home-made nativity scenes originate from submontane regions.

Nativity scenes created by Czech craftsmen are often very different from those produced in other countries. The striking difference is the fact that besides the figural picture of Jesus’ birth, the holy family and angels, scenes that depict everyday life have also been included. It would not be a Czech nativity scene without musicians, shepherds and their sheep, craftsmen, traders, and farmers, all of whom are bringing gifts to the infant messiah.

There are two masterpieces in the history of Czech craftsmanship in the field of nativity scenes, Probošt’s mechanical nativity scene and the Krýza crèche. Probošt’s mechanical nativity scene is a moving nativity scene made of wood that is more than one hundred years old. It was built by the folk carver Josef Probošt, and his assistants Josef Kapucián and Josef Friml, and took more than an incredible forty years to complete. In 1967 this masterpiece was a part of the World Exhibition in Montreal. At present it is a part of the installations in the Nativity Scene Museum in Třebechovice pod Orebem (map), a small town located 13 km east of the city of Hradec Králové.

The Krýza crèche is the largest mechanical folk nativity scene in the world and has been listed in the Guinness Book of Records since 1998. Its author, Tomáš Krýza, spent more than 60 years creating this piece of art. The breathtaking nativity scene occupies 60 (map) and is on display in the museum in Jindřichův Hradec (map), a town of southern Bohemia.

Another interesting piece is the puppet Royal nativity scene in the Karlštejn Nativity Scene Museum (map), which can be found under the famous gothic Karlštejn Castle (25 km southwest of Prague). This museum is the largest exposition of nativity scenes in the Czech Republic. Its collections comprise some 50 nativity scenes including real curiosities such as crèches made of bread, sugar or wax, and truly unique miniature crèches installed in coconut, walnut and even hazelnut shells!

Author: Romana Kuncová
Added: 09.12.2010

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