Silent Night: This is how the most famous Christmas carol in the world was born | cultural | D.W.

In 1815, the wars against invading Napoleonic troops had left famine and devastation in the Austrian Alps, specifically in Salzach, near Oberndorf, the border between Bavaria and Austria. Floods and crop failures have compounded the difficulties.

And to make matters worse, the mice had gnawed the bellows of the organ of the Saint-Nicolas church in Oberndorf. Nothing seemed to work this Christmas.

Joseph Franz Mohr, a 26-year-old assistant pastor, walks through a snowy field on Christmas Eve morning. We are in 1818, and in a pocket he finds a piece of paper with a poem he had written two years earlier: “Silent night, love night”, in German “Stille Nacht, heilige Nacht”.

When they are lost, they are appreciated: peace and harmony

Mohr goes to his friend, the teacher and organist Franz Xaver Gruber, and asks him to write a melody for the text in the blink of an eye, and for two voices with guitar accompaniment, since the organ had been damaged. In the afternoon, just in time for the Christmas mass, the work is finished.

Mohr sings the tenor, Gruber plays the bass and the faithful of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf are delighted. This song gave back to the people of the region what they no longer believed existed after the war: a world in peace and harmony. This Christmas carol was comfort and hope for the souls mistreated by the Napoleonic invasion.

“Silent night, night of love”: an eternal hit

Here is how one of the stanzas goes:

Night of peace Night of love,

humble listen to the faithful shepherd,

celestial choirs that announce health

thank you and glory in great plenitude…

Thus, since 204 Christmas this song, originally written in German, has been around the world. The Rainer family of Tyrolean singers sang it for Russian Tsar Alexander I and Austrian Emperor Francis I. In what is now Germany, it was created in Leipzig in 1831. Eight years later, in New York.

Since 2011, “Silent Night” has even been included in the list of intangible cultural heritage of UNESCO.

Mohr, helper of the poor

Joseph Mohr was unaware of the worldwide craze he aroused with his Christmas carol. The illegitimate son of a weaver and a deserter musketeer, he ordered the construction of a shelter for needy old people, next to the church of Wagrain, his last station as pastor, who – after having finished their time of workers – were left to their fate and expelled from the farm.

He also built a school and sold his cow to pay for children’s books. When Mohr died aged 56, he was buried in the grave of one of the homeless people he was helping. Today, thousands of tourists make a pilgrimage to the Chapel of the Silent Night in Oberndorf every year.

Today, this song continues to be a balm for the inhabitants of a world that seems increasingly precarious, violent and unjust. His lyrics and music work the magic of putting listeners in a state of reflection, and at least reconciliation with themselves.



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