Christmas nativity scene on sale now!

The Lanšperk Nativity Scene is a cut-out paper crib following the crib tradition in Eastern Bohemia. Cutout is designed for assembly into the wooden cabinet as well as outside the polystyrene background. 8 paper (size A3) sheets containing a total of 90 figures and buildings, including detailed instructions manual for assembly (The manual in english language will be issued soon). Includes a picture of the crib as a miniature nativity scene. This crib is a collaboration Radim Dusek, director of the State Regional Archives in Usti nad Orlici and me.

Cut-out Nativity issued OFTIS, Usti nad Orlici. The product can be purchased via the Internet at the publisher sites.

Lansperk Nativity scene
Price: 153 CZK

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Crib assembly instructions can be downloaded here , for now only in Czech.
Who those who are interested, it is possible to order wooden box in stained solid wood by joiner (sample here), its price moves up to 2000 CZK. The box can be ordered on the Oftis´s website or write me an email. It is necessary to reckon with the fact that the production of boxes takes time.

Paper Cut-out Nativity Scene by Adolf Lachman

The greatest story ever told, takes place on Christmas day and has been fascinating millions of people for more than two thousand years. The time of advent anticipation of the return of the Messiah, twelve nights between the Nativity and the Epiphany, is considered an enormous mystery in which Christian and Pagan traditions have merged.

When Francis of Assisi served his midnight mass in 1223 near Greccio, Umbria with a baby covered in cloth and placed him between donkey and bullock watched over by bowing shepherds, little did he know, that he entered the history of Nativity handicraft, even though the live scene spared of the Saint Family, stable or cave. In Bohemia and Moravia, the building of the Nativity scene in churches from 1660s took place due to the Jesuits. Later, the Emperor Joseph II inadvertently helped the spread of the Nativity scenes when he banished them from all properties of the church.

The Czech Nativity handicraft introduced a fairy tale atmosphere into Christmas and helped to adapt it to the domestic environment. It depicts both the ordinary and mythical lives of people in the villages and small towns.

The Lanšperk Nativity scene follows up on the tradition of the mobile Nativity scenes and on the art of Nativity craftsman from the regions of Ústí nad Orlicí. From a distance, the Lanšperk Nativity looks like a colourful tapestry. It pays tribute to the founder of Lanšperk castle Přemysl Otakar II and to his estate. Coincidentally, Přemysl Otakar lived in the same century as spiritual leaders Francis and Clare of Assisi and Agnes of Bohemia.

In the Nativity scene, set in the cellars of the Lanšperk castle ruins, you can also find Přemysl´s son, the Czech king Václav II, the Abbot of the Zbraslav monastery Petr Žitavský and an unnamed Lanšperk knight all blessing the saviour of mankind. In accordance with the Gothic portrayal of the Virgin Mary, she is kneeling and Joseph is standing over, leaning on a staff.

The first record of written reports of the town of Lanšperk dates back to the year 1285, when Václav II bequeathed the castle to his stepfather Záviš from Falkštejn. Following the founding of Zbraslav monastery, Lanšperk and its surrounding land, the area of ústecko-třebovsko and lanškrounsko, became according to Václav´s rule the property of the Cistercians. By doing this he thanked God for helping the Czech kingdom for overcoming difficult times. The historical events within the Zbraslav chronicles were written in Latin by the third Abbot of Zbraslav monastery and restorer of the provost ship Petr Žitavský.

The gospel of Luke states, that the first people to visit Bethlehem were shepherds, who were awakened by the angel of the Lord. In our story, God’s messenger appears by the neo-Gothic Lanšperk chapel Nanebevzetí Blahoslavené Panny Marie while the shepherds rest underneath one of the local linden trees.

The Lanšperk village was originally called Budy or the City of Budy below Lanšperk castle. The King and his lords demanded that hops were grown by peasants throughout the area and also a brewery was built on the castle grounds. The actual brewery disappeared some time at the end of 16th century. In Budy there lived nine peasants obliged to outdoor labour. The Tenth was the innkeeper, who was freed from such labour on condition he bought and sold beer only from the castle’s brewery. The other nine peasants farmed the flax and cabbage fields and maintained the castle itself. They also used to lower and lift wine and beer to and from the cellar and went on wolf hunts.

An interesting addition to the nativity scene is a group of people, discussing the remarkable event. Also present is a farmer, a servant girl, a blacksmith, a barber, some musicians as well as the innkeeper/butcher. Crouching under an apple tree next to Lanšperk belfry is the compassionate Grůfka. According to a tale, she helps the Lanšperk people in difficult times, corrects wrongs and punishes the dishonest. For centuries she has been taking treasures from the Lanšperk castle and offering them to poor and starving.

An integral part of the Nativity scene are the sheep. First Christian art depicts twelve sheep as the apostles with the holy ram in the middle. There is a hare peeking out from a rock as a symbol of the pagans and sinners, which are confessing thus finding their way to God. The charming white dog is the personification of loyalty. The wolf is symbol of evil and has its roots in the middle ages. The cockerel is the courier of true light. It was the cockerel who protected Lanšperk from evil. It was a hero of a local tale known as the Devil´s Bridge, that tells the story about two warring knights of Lanšperk and Žampach, who wanted to rule the hills and lowlands. Thus the knight of Lanšperk summoned the ruler of hell himself to help and signed with his own blood the exchange of his soul for a direct bridge from the Lanšperk to Žampach castle. Lucifer had only one condition, during the night, no cockerel ought to crow. To ensure silence, the castle guard killed all the cockerels in the land. However, there was one cockerel which survived. It belonged to a lonely and poor old lady. She felt sorry for it and hid him under a pan of her stove. What nosy person would look for a cockerel under a pan!

During a thunderstorm, Lucifer’s beasts were building the pillars of the bridge. The day was almost breaking when the old lady´s cockerel escaped and crowed. The devils power lost its strength and instead of a bridge, only the devil’s stones ended up cluttered in the fields, meadows and forests. The soul of the knight was surrendered to hell the next night.

Trees and herbs also have their place in the Nativity handicraft iconography. For example the oak tree is the tree of heavenly and earthly sovereignty. The oak tree is the support of heaven and the axis of the world. Medieval legends state that the Madonna used to appear in its foliage. The cosmic tree connecting the sky, the world and the underworld is the beech tree. It supports and nourishes the cosmos. The tree of knowledge is the apple tree and its fruit symbolises the original sin. St Augustine explains, the tree of knowledge is a part of the allegory of pride. Adam and Eve ate the apple and thus ruled themselves to excommunication and death. The apple became an attribute of Christ the saviour himself. On a Christmas tree it reminds us that through his birth Christ enabled the return of man to heaven. The small leaved lime, the Czech national tree, is the plant of femininity and the protector of the clan. The area of the Lanšperk’s chapel Nanebevzetí Blahoslavené Panny Marie prides itself on the lime alley of the Emperor František Josef I. It used to be said, that the scent of juniper casts away snakes and the juice of its pines and berries heals bites of vipers and other venomous animals. Thus sins are often compared to symbolic snakes and wood of juniper to the cross of Christ the saviour.

The English Ivy, used as a Christmas decoration symbolises love. The habit of decoration comes from the tale, according to which house elves used to think up little malicious pranks during Christmas. The flower of the lily has become the portrayal of purity for its whiteness. From here comes the folk saying: „Clean as a lily.“ It is as the mother of God, which is due to its virgin fertility useful to the world and the symbol of the church and a faithful soul. Apart from the Virgin Mary the lily is often attributed to other saints as well, for example to Antonín from Padova, Tomáš Akvinský as well as to Clare of Assisi.

Flax belongs to the world, life and fertility. The daisy announces the sun rise and closes with the sun set. It reminds us of the birth of Christ, the adoration of the three kings and is related to redemption. From the medieval times, this unostentatious flower is often ascribed the power to predict love. That is where the well know habit of picking the leaves and saying: He loves me, he loves me not..“ comes from. Another forgotten habit of medieval women is when they wanted to publicly show that they are being loved, they allowed their gentlemen to decorate their shields with two daisies.

Acanthus is the symbol of the Resurrection and the eternal Christ, primrose is the symbol of the duke of Apostles St Peter, the bramble of the immaculate conception and repentance of regret, the squash of the transience and short luck, the mint of temperance, moderation and wisdom and the Marian thistle of earthly pain and of voluntary suffering of Christ and martyrs.

Signs in the lower garland consist of the coat of arms of Sbor pro záchranu hradu Lanšperka, civic association (The Union of Lanšperk Castle Preservation). On this coat of arms is King Wenceslas with a banner in his left hand and shield with the Přemyslid eagle in his right. This coat of arms is the symbol of the village of Václavov, originated from the former farmstead, later known as a local part of the municipality of Lanšperk. This coat of arms was later taken to represent Lanšperk as a whole. The double tailed silver lion with golden armour on a red shield represents all Czech kings. The flaming eagle with golden armour on a silver shield suggested, that Czech kings Přemysl II, Otakar and Václav II. proceeded from a powerful descent of the Přemyslids. The shield of the two crossed hoes was the original sign of Lanšperk village. The heraldic gallery concludes with the symbol of Občanské sdružení pro kapli a boží muka Lanšperk (The Civic Assosiation for the Chapel and Calvary, Lanšperk).

Adolf Lachman, the author of Lašperk Nativity Scene brings us the gift of the Nativity scene handicraft of the Orlickoústecko region. „To the honour and praise of God and to the delight of heart.“

Radim Dušek, 2011