The Christmas carol “Stille Nacht” (“Silent Night”) may have put the town of Oberndorf, Austria, on the map, but the church that commemorates the love song is the town’s main attraction. .
Beautifully seen covered in snow, the small octagonal-shaped church, 13 miles from Salzburg, is a tourist attraction at any time of the year.
With a historical past, the song has a role in a small Alpine town, a brief stop during the First World War and a local love affair.
According to an oft-shared story, Father Joseph Mohr wrote the songs because his parish body was broken. He asked Francis Xavier Gruber, the church’s organist and school teacher, to come and play with him a few hours before Christmas at midnight in the church. of St. Nicholas in 1818.
In fact, Father Mohr wrote it as a hymn two years earlier when he lived in Mariapfarr, Austria.
But the song, “Stille Nacht,” debuted on Dec. 24.
The Silent Night Chapel stands where St. Nikola Church before the floods in the 1890s. That parish church was rebuilt a half mile upstream and the abandoned church remained for years. It was destroyed in 1913.
Ten years later, the construction of a new church began in the same place; ended on August 15, 1937, the feast of the Assumption.
Now translated into 300 languages, the song is among the most popular. This year, Pushpay, an electronic payment platform, released the results from last year’s user survey, placing “Silent Night” in the third favorite after “O Holy Night ” and “O Come all Ye Faithful.”
UNESCO added music to its world heritage list in 2011 in recognition of its cultural and social value.
On Christmas Eve in 1914, during the First World War, the song started a ceasefire while French and British forces were fighting German forces in Flanders, Belgium. Both sides sang Christmas carols, but “Silent Night” was all they knew. Soldiers came together briefly to sing, play and trade goods.
The Silent Night Chapel is located near the Silent Night Museum in the Silent Night District. A beautiful gift shop offers unique Christmas ornaments, books and beautiful postcards.
The city is very walkable. The Salzachdamm, built in the 1920s, and the Salzach River, which brought prosperity to the area from the shipping industry, especially the movement of salt in large cargo ships. Don’t miss the bridge over the Salzach connecting Oberndorf with Laufen on the edge of Bavaria in Germany.
Released by the Silent Night Post Office you will receive a Christmas stamp and stamp for your mail. If your time is right, you can visit the Christmas Market there starting in the middle of November.
Every Christmas Day since 1953, the church commemorates the carol with a service at 5 p.m. that draws people to hear and join in the singing of familiar carols:
Silent night, holy night!
Everything is quiet, everything is bright.
Around Virgin, mother and child.
The perfect child, sweet and tender,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.
This first part of the trilogy is translated from the original German six stanzas familiar to most. The simple lyrics and melody evoke the feeling of peace that the people of Austria were looking for after the Napoleonic wars.
The song is among the top ranks of the most popular Christmas songs. It has been recorded by singers from Bing Crosby in 1935, to Mariah Carey, the a capella group Pentatonix and more.
The sweet song is more than 200 years old since it started in an Austrian village.
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Editor’s note: To hear an audio recording of “Silent Night” from the church, go to bit.ly/3WpnvTV.
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Augherton is editor of the Arlington Catholic Herald, newspaper of the Diocese of Arlington.