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“Silent Night,” the most popular song of all time, is 200!

SILENT NIGHT CHAPEL,AUSTRIA
BARBARA GINDL | APA-PictureDesk
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Celebrations are underway in Austria where the beloved Christmas carol was composed by a parish priest and a schoolteacher.

Special celebrations are underway throughout Austria commemorating the 200th anniversary of “Silent Night,” the beloved Christmas carol.

Composed in 1818 by schoolmaster and organist Franz Xaver Gruber to lyrics written by parish priest Father Joseph Mohr, the song went on to become the most popular song in the world, according to Sigrid Pichler of the Austrian Tourist Office in New York.

“It’s the most bought, downloaded and recorded song in all musical genres, including classical, rock and other popular versions, even rap,” said Pichler.

In Austria, the sites that are part of the history of the beloved song are kicking out all the stops. Of course the original church where “Silent Night” was first heard, St. Nikolai in Oberndorf, is a kind of pilgrimage site.  Every year on December 24, you can hear the bells chime to the tune of the world-renowned Christmas carol from the church tower.

This year, the 2018 Advent Festival features over 150 singers, musicians, soloists, and  actors, and a new stage play, appropriately titled “My Silent Night,” is playing at the Felsenreitschule Theatre in Salzburg.

The old school in Arnsdorf where Gruber was a teacher and organist contains the amazing Silent Night Museum. Old, creaky stairs lead up to the first floor and into the lyricist’s former residence, where he lived from 1807 to 1829 with his first wife until her death, and with his second wife and the children from 1826. This is also probably where he composed the melody of “Silent Night” during the afternoon of November 24,1818. The school building is preserved in its original state and continues to serve as a school.

The “Maria im Mösl” Pilgrimage Church, built in 1520, is where Gruber played the organ, which is still there.

The charming Gruber-Mohr trail connects Oberndorf and Arnsdorf and invites visitors on a lovely walking tour. It’s quite probable that Gruber took this path to Oberndorf for his organist duties. The path leads from the school in Arnsdorf to the Silent Night Square in Oberndorf.

The house where Gruber was born in Hocburg-Ach is now the Gruber memorial house (“Grubahäusl”), commemorating the composer.  On display are authentic autographs and documentation relating to the song, including the priest’s diary, letters and portraits, and the original guitar on which he played the carol, as the organ did not work. Each third Advent weekend in Hochburg-Ach, the well-known and much loved historical play “On the search for the Silent Night” is performed by local amateur actors from the area. In Ried im Innkreis can be found the original manger (Nativity scene) that was on display the night “Silent Night” was first sung in St. Nicholas church in Oberndorf.

To follow the “Silent Trail,” the true fan could continue to Steyr, where the first copies of the song “Silent Night” were first printed, duplicated and sold:

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light;
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

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