"Sancta Nox" was recorded at the 12th-century St. Magnus Abbey, where the seminarians study for the priesthood.
Move over, Santa Claus, there’s a new Christmas sensation coming to town. This year, a group of Bavarian seminarians has recorded an album of liturgical sacred music just in time for Christmas. The album, Sancta Nox, was only released on September 28, but it has already reached the #1 spot on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Albums chart.
In an interview with the Catholic Telegraph, seminarian Manuel Vaz Guedes commented on the outstanding success of the album:
“We are very surprised and grateful that people have already found this recording, and humbled that they have decided to add this music to the Christmas experience and traditions.”
Sancta Nox was a production of the Priestly Fraternity of St. Peter, a traditionalist Catholic society of apostolic life. Their members hail from all over the world, but the seminary is located in Bavaria, Germany. There, the recordings were made on site at the 12th-century St. Magnus Abbey, marking the work with authentic medieval acoustics from the preserved church structure.
Music of prayer
The 17-song album is a collection of liturgical chants that make up the Christmas Matins, the music sung during the Christmas vigil. The music is all performed a cappella, with the young men of the seminary taking the lead. The only instruments captured were St. Magnus’ church bells, which were placed before the opening track as though to call the listener to prayer.
This prayerful atmosphere is one of the brightest shining aspects of the album. In the video preview that accompanied the release, the seminary revealed that the work was produced by 10-time Grammy Award winner Christopher Alder. They said that Alder leaned into the sacred aspect of the music and insisted that the performers regard the music as a prayer in its own right. This approach brings a special reverence to the recordings.
The seminarians seemed touched with Alder’s faithful approach to this recording. Expanding on these sentiments of the preview, Vaz Guedes spoke on the intrinsic value of music in prayer during his interview with the Telegraph:
“We must be attentive to the words we are saying and to the beauty of the melody we are singing,” he said. “ We can meditate on the words because they are the formal part of the prayer—they are the prayer we address to God—But we have the opportunity to do it [while] enjoying the beauty of the melody or the harmony, because the beauty of music is a participation of the perfect beauty that is God.”
Sancta Nox is an instant classic for all those who strive to keep their Christmas as religious as possible. What awaits listeners is not the secular holiday sound of the 20th century, but the richly historic, sacred tones of Christmas from the ancient Catholic tradition. One of the seminarians mused that the average age of the chants is probably around 800 years old. Be that as it may, these infrequently heard chants are bound to sound fresh and new to millions of listeners.
The album is available to purchase at just about every major music supplier. Check out their “Stille Nacht” below, and then give the whole album a listen at Spotify.