Guardians of Heritage: In the Footsteps of Matej Vrečer
This year marks the 320th anniversary of the birth of Dr. Matej Vrečer, the parish priest of Šmarje pri Jelšah from the mid-18th century, who was also a mathematician and watchmaker, and most notably, the builder of the famous Šmarje Calvary. He served as the source of inspiration for the new projects for the staff of the Šmarje pri Jelšah Library, one of which, the Guardians of Heritage, is being carried out as part of the Erasmus + programme and will be completed by the summer.
The first international endeavour we initiated in our library was Guardians of Heritage. Its goals include getting employees out of their comfort zones, broadening their horizons, and deepening their knowledge—all of which would be applicable when working with readers and users of other services the library and its units provide, as well as in the local community.
Banská Štiavnica—a city of gold and silver
Banská Štiavnica is located in the centre of Slovakia. The presence of ore deposits, particularly those containing gold and silver, and associated mining activities are the reasons for Banská Štiavnica's existence and prosperity. It was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List at the end of 1993 due to the town center's exceptional state of preservation from the Medieval period.
The reason we went on a study trip to this particular Slovak town was not in search of gold and silver, but for Calvary, which was built in the same period as ours in Šmarje pri Jelšah, and it suffered a fate that was very similar, if not worse, than ours. Calvary's restoration, thanks to enthusiasts, started in 2008 and was largely finished in the following ten years.
Martin Macharik, the director of the Foundation for the Restoration of this Slovak Calvary, welcomed us in Banská Štiavnica. He not only serves as the foundation's director but also focuses all of his efforts on restoring the Banská Štiavnica Calvary, setting up a museum with restored wooden relief paintings and statues, and otherwise helping to bring back the former splendour of this town. Martin Macharik gave us a peek into the secret nature of their Calvary, but more importantly, he imparted his bubbling enthusiasm and brilliant ideas to us, which we will work to fully realise as well. We also made a brief documentary in Slovakia, which you can view on the Šmarje pri Jelšah Library's YouTube channel.
The Styrian Provincial Archives
It is no coincidence that we, the people of Šmarje, chose to visit historic Styria's capital. Namely, Matej Vrečer received his education from the Jesuits in Graz. Dr. Metoda Kemperl, a Slovenian baroque scholar, discovered Vrečer's will and an inventory of his entire estate in the Styrian Provincial Archives years ago and published it alongside the study in the publication Matej Vrečer-priest, mathematician, watchmaker. We went to Graz hoping to learn more about the history of Šmarje pri Jelšah. As it turned out, we were right. We will be able to update the Franc Skaza exhibition with a map of "Šmarje pri Jelšah" from 1825, add a number of photographs of the superintendent Franc Jurkovič from the turn of the 19th century to the local history documentation, and display a replica of Vrečer's manuscript in the Baroque Museum. The Styrian Provincial Archives gave us a very warm welcome, and they provided us with outstanding mentoring during the document search.
According to historical accounts, Matej Vrečer was supposedly inspired to build a similar pilgrimage complex in Šmarje pri Jelšah after seeing the Graz Calvary. Graz Calvary predates the Calvary in Šmarje by about 100 years. The Calvary Group was first constructed at the summit of Austein Hill in 1606, and the remaining 14 stations were added and completed by 1660. As a result of the pilgrims' donations, the complex was enlarged and exquisitely constructed. The outcome was the construction of magnificent buildings, past which the visitor ascends to the highest point in Austein where the Calvary Group is erected. Along with a gilded statue of Jesus, the figures are life-size and made of sandstone. In Graz as well, the complex that portrays Jesus' suffering has sustained serious damage over the centuries. The structure underwent a thorough restoration for the last time in 2002.
Holy Stairs: The connecting thread between the three Calvaries
A baroque church with a replica of the Holy Stairs, which were meant to prepare the pious for the path of suffering, is located at the base of the Graz Calvary. Visitors can also find there the short publication When the Sky Touches the Earth, which is published by the parish of Graz-Kalvarienberg. We were pleasantly surprised to discover by flipping through the booklet that it also includes a photograph of the three calvaries in Central Europe, depicting a particularly beautiful chapel of the Holy Stairs. Along with Graz, these are the Calvary in Banska Štiavnica and Šmarje pri Jelšah. This served as further evidence that we had made wise and deliberate choices regarding the partner states and the particular cities, and that we had learned a great deal along the way. We will skillfully apply these newfound skills and knowledge to our daily work and to the growth of the institution as a whole.
In addition, we filmed a short video in Graz. You will be able to watch it for the first time on the day that our project Guardians of Heritage concludes-June 30, at 6 p.m.-on the Šmarje pri Jelšah library's YouTube channel.
Vlasta Kramperšek Šuc, coordinator of the E + Guardians of Heritage project