What does the Salzburger Sportwelt have to do with the world’s most popular Christmas carol? Well, we’ll tell you – the author of the song text, Joseph Mohr, lived in Wagrain for eleven years, where he did good work as a “social vicar“ and found his last resting place. Today you can visit the new Silent Night Museum and explore the resort along the Wagrain Culture Walk.
On the 24th December 1818 the world-famous Christmas carol “Silent Night, Holy Night“ was performed for the first time in the small town of Oberndorf in Salzburg. How did it come about?
In the young parish of Oberndorf poverty, hardship and hunger were rife. The locals‘ troubles were great – the Napoleonic War had demoralized, traumatized and bled the people dry. Many suffered extreme poverty, unemployment and huge debts. In addition Oberndorf had been split from the town of Laufen by the Vienna Congress. Oberndorf suddenly belonged to Austria, Laufen remained in Bavaria. In the resort an apocalyptic atmosphere prevailed and that’s where the young junior priest Joseph Mohr was sent to carry out his duties: Joseph Mohr (11.12.1792 – 04.12.1848), who himself came from the humble background in the city of Salzburg, was a devoutly religious, sensitive and down-to-earth minister. The 25 year old helped where possible. On the afternoon of the 24th of December 1818 he gave his friend, schoolmaster and organist in the resort, Franz Xaver Gruber, the poem he had written entitled “Silent Night, Holy Night“. He then asked Gruber to compose a melody to the words so as to surprise the Oberndorf parishioners with a beautiful nativity celebration.
And that’s what happened: Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber sang the Christmas carol as a duet with Mohr playing the guitar that very same evening in the St. Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf. What happened thereafter verged on a miracle. Circuitously the song travelled from SalzburgerLand to Tyrol. Within a few decades Tyrolean national singers from the Ziller Valley made the carol popular throughout the whole world from America to Russia. Missionaries transported it further afield and since then the song has been sung in over 300 languages and dialects.
Silent Night resort of Wagrain in the Salzburger Sportwelt
Joseph Mohr left Oberndorf soon after in1819 and was busy during the next decades in several Salzburg parishes. In 1837 he came to Wagrain, where he worked as vicar until his early death in Advent 1848. In his second year in Wagrain he was the main initiator for the building of the Primary School, for which he gave almost all his goods and chattels. He also purchased a fire brigade hose for the community and campaigned for the care of the poor and elderly. His efforts had long-lasting effects in Wagrain. Joseph Mohr was also popular in the resort as an affable, sociable and musical priest: He supported a church choir and an active composer. On the 4th December 1848 Joseph Mohr died aged just 56 years of palsy of the lung.
The Wagrain Culture Walk entices guests to a circular one and a half hour walk on the trail of Mohr and through the Silent Night resort. Along the way you’ll find the Wagrain rectory, which was run by Mohr plus the Parish Church with its Joseph Mohr memorial plaque and memorial organ, the Wagrain rectory, which was run by Mohr. In the Wagrain Churchyard you can visit Joseph Mohr’s last resting place.
Since December 2017 the newly-renovated Pflegerschlössl in Wagrain – the former Prince Bishop’s office building dating back to the 18th century – has been home to the new Silent Night Museum. The exhibition areas are dedicated to the life and work of Joseph Mohr in Wagrain, the origin of the Christmas carol, its international popularity and its unique magic. In addition the museum invites visitors to an interactive conflict with the merit of peace and quiet in an ever-increasing hectic age.
The World’s most popular Christmas carol
In my new book “Silent Night! Holy Night!“ I set off on the trail of the World’s most popular Christmas carol. The aim of my book is to offer the reader a quick and yet detailed introduction to the subject. Principally it’s about the carol creators Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber, about their unique living conditions and the external circumstances behind the carol’s creation, but also about how the song spread and how you too can head off on its trail in the Silent Night resorts SalzburgerLand, in Tyrol and Upper Austria.
Photo credits: Sportalpen-Marketing, Wagrain-Kleinarl Tourismus, Franziska Lipp