Half-timbered nativity scene

We built this half-timbered stable with a straw roof exclusively with muscle power, hand tools, wood, rope and straw. No machine was involved! The raw materials come from the region: the wood from Overijse and the straw from Merksem. The building follows the tradition of life-size nativity scenes and will later have a place at the Grimbergen Christmas market.

Building with wood, loam and straw

For centuries, people in our region built mainly with wood and loam. The wooden frame or truss forms the structure on which the roof rests and in which the walls and joinery are installed. These traditional half-timbered buildings usually had a straw roof, lighter and cheaper than roof tiles or slates. Straw roofs and loam walls require regular maintenance. That is one of the main reasons why other building materials were increasingly chosen.

A technical tradition as an inspiration 

The northern Campine region has a rich tradition of building life-size nativity scenes. These nativity scenes go back to the traditional Campine half-timbered buildings and are relics of nearly lost construction techniques, a perfect example of intangible heritage. Inspired by them, the MOT came up with the plan to build our own nativity scene in Grimbergen. This construction project was part of an ongoing master-apprentice process. We documented and filmed the entire building project with the support of the Province of Flemish Brabant. 

The design

Later on, this nativity scene will be rebuilt annually on the Grimbergen Christmas market. Therefore it should not be too large and it must be easy to assemble and dismantle. The design is inspired by historic sheepfolds, but it is not an exact replica. The stable is covered with straw every year. The design of the truss structure is designed for this.

The choice of wood

Flanders has had little forest since the Middle Ages and is therefore a wood-poor area. Big tree trunks were never sacrificed for a simple utility building such as a sheepfold. Especially for small constructions, trunks of limited diameter were sufficient. That is why we chose logs from a recent clearing in the Sonian Forest for our nativity scene. Many of these logs would normally be processed as firewood and are not considered to be suitable as construction timber. We used native wood species that are naturally sustainable, such as oak and chestnut.

The construction process

Construction started in 2021. We built the nativity scene exclusively using hand tools and limited the use of iron, such as nails, to an absolute minimum. Because it is a small half-timbered building, we wanted to go back to the traditional way of building without compromises. We carefully filmed every step of the building process. With this we hope to inspire and encourage as many people as possible to get started with half-timbering themselves. The videos are shared online, so be sure to keep an eye on this page...


 the MOT, Section Guldendal - Guldendal 20, 1850 Grimbergen
Tel.: +32 2 270 81 11 - info@mot.be

Nativity scene in Turnhout

Example of straw covering a roof

Wood selection in the Sonian Forest