ORIGIN OF A CAROL
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.
Perhaps the best-known Christmas carol of all time, having been translated in 44 different languages (and counting), "Silent Night" has several interesting accounts about its creation.
One popular claim is that the carol was quickly written on Christmas Eve in 1818 by Franz Gruber, the church organist, and the Rev. Joseph Mohr, a Catholic priest, after the organ of their small village church, St. Nicholas of Obendorf, Austria, had broken down. Needing music for the church service, these two improvising souls, the story holds, immediately came up with a melody for two solo voices, a chorus and guitar, with Gruber providing most of the music. Several hours later, their creative labors produced one of our most devotional carols.
Another account has a more inspirational ring to it. The Rev. Mohr, who was blessed with a fine tenor voice, was once approached by his good friend, Franz Gruber, who commented: "Pastor, do you know that the real Christmas song is yet to be written. I cannot name the song, but it will tell of the Holy Night." To which the Rev. Mohr responded: "Friend Gruber, the song of Holy Night shall be
The Rev. Mohr's inspiration came in 1816 when a villager came to announce the birth of a child in the house of a young woodsman. At the behest of the anxious father, the priest plodded through heavy snow to bring words of good cheer and blessings for the young mother and the house. The priest, though weary from the trek through the snow, was quite impressed by the pervasive and comforting silence, the snow, and starry night. Upon his arrival at the woodsman's humble abode, he was further moved when he gazed upon the small, rough-hewn cradle where the baby lay and with the woodchopper tending to his wife at a nearby bed of pine logs.
Sleep in heavenly peace
The priest was transfixed by the scene and overcome by a feeling of radiance and holiness about the place. It struck him that the surroundings bore a strong resemblance to how the birth of another child, the Infant Jesus, had been described 1,800 years earlier. After blessing the woodsman's home, Rev. Mohr returned to his study and began reflecting on the scene he had just witnessed. While looking out across the snowy mountains and stars, he murmured to himself, "Silent Night, Holy Night." It was during this holy mood when he wrote a humble carol of six stanzas that softly proclaimed the joy and peace of the first Christmas.
Six or seven years after the initial church performance of "Silent Night," an organ repairman, hired to reconstruct the organ at St. Nicholas Church, found a copy of the carol at the church and received permission to take it home with him. Soon after, traveling singing groups began to sing "Silent Night" in different parts of Austria and ultimately in other regions of the world, thus further spreading the carol's popularity. The song would become exceptionally popular in the United States after World War I when returning war veterans remembered hearing it sung by German soldiers during Christmas truces.
Ronald M. Clancy
From "Best-Loved Christmas Carols,"
Volume 1 from "The Millennia Collection"