The Habans were followers of an ultra-nonconformist Christian doctrine which, among other things, held that believers should be baptised as youths, not as infants - followers are also known as Anabaptists. This may not sound like a big deal now but in the religious turmoil of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Europe it was regarded as heresy and frequently resulted in their severe persecution. Several groups left their original homes in Germany, some heading west to North America (where one group became known as the Amish); others went east, some ending up in the village of Veľké Leváre in Záhorie.
Local landowners were keen for them to settle here: they were well-behaved, reliable taxpayers and prodigiously hard workers. Their main occupation was pottery making. Haban designs are very similar to those still used in Modra pottery; indeed it is very likely that this is where the Modra potters got their techniques. The main difference is that Haban designs never use red, which is associated with blood.
The Habans were not allowed to settle in the centre of Veľké Leváre, instead forming a compound around a square on the edge of the village with a mill, workshops, church, meeting hall and houses (the word 'Haban' refers to their distinctive homes). Theirs was a culture apart: children were brought up communally; marriage to non-Habans was prohibited and, since the community was small, a board approved marriages to prevent in-breeding.
The Haban Museum, in a house in the square, provides some fascinating glimpses of their lifestyle: one description, dated 1660, describes (in Slovak; most of the exhibits are not, at present, labelled in English) how they worked six days a week, with just 15 minutes for lunch, and rarely spoke, especially when working.
The Haban museum in Veľké Leváre
Photos by James Thomson
But tolerance of their beliefs was to be short-lived. Empress Maria Theresa decided in 1761 that they must become Catholics, while allowing them the privilege of a separate church. From then on the noose tightened. By 1763 Habans were reported fleeing to the forests to avoid persecution. By the 1780s most had left or converted and the community disappeared during nineteenth century, though some local people still claim descent from them.
As well as the museum and the surrounding compound, the local pub, U Habánu, also recalls them - though whether the conservative Habans would have approved of this is another matter.
Veľké Leváre is also home to a huge Baroque church, built by the Archbishop of Vienna, Cardinal Sigismund Kollonich. It was consecrated in September 1733, on the anniversary of the Ottoman defeat at the Battle of Vienna fifty years earlier.