Oberndorf: The Flachgau Contribution - Part II

Yet, Oberndorf′s claim to fame comes neither from its architecture nor from Benita Ferrero-Waldner, Austria′s rather peculiar former minister for foreign affairs that was born here, but from the World′s most famous Christmas Carol. "Silent Night" was written and composed in Oberndorf on Christmas Eve 1818. It was a troublesome time for poor people in Salzburg:

The allied troops of France and Bavaria had plundered the city, the former principality had lost its sovereignty and Salzburg had become part of Austria only a few years earlier. Not only Salzburg′s self-confidence was messed up, but also its economy and it was the poor people that suffered the most. Oberndorf was full of poor people: Migrants from the mountain region in the south, people working in the boats that transported goods along the Salzach Rivers, farmers and peasants.

And there was a young priest named Joseph Mohr and a young teacher named Franz Xaver Gruber. The two were in charge of arranging the Christmas Eve service, which ends lent and is traditionally a very big deal in Austria - and it surely was even bigger back in the days, when religion played a more important role than it does today. Mohr and Gruber had a problem: the organ was broken and so they had to find a way to supplement the service with some other sort of acoustic aid.

Two years earlier, Joseph Mohr had written a poem called "Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht" ("Silent Night, Holy Night"). Mohr suggested that Gruber should write a tune to the poem and they performed it presumably with the local choir in the service. The carol was an instant - though local - success and spread over several communities in the region in the following years.

Silent Night Sightseeing

As early as in 1819, the Tyrolian folk singer families Strasser and Rainer picked the song up and performed it in the Ötztal region of Tyrol. These two families later became internationally popular and toured Germany and the United States in the 1830ies, thereby spreading "Silent Night, Holy Night" even further. By 1866, the carol became a part of an official clerical song collection in Salzburg.

At this time, it had already become a crucial part of Austria′s Christmas Eve service ceremony (it normally ends the service and all lights but candles are extinguished in the church for "Silent Night"). More than 300 translations of Silent Night are known today: English, Spanish and the original German are only the most common ones, but also more exotic versions as those of several Asian and Pacific languages and Klingon.

Joseph Mohr was a highly charitable man and despite of being a Catholic priest, he became a bit of a socialist in his later years. In a way, Mr Silent Night pioneered liberation theology in Salzburg. Anyway, the church where all this started is the St. Nikolaus Church in Oberndorf. The local tourism mafia, however, discovered the marketing potential of "Silent Nigh" and built a "memorial chapel" between 1924 and 1937. There is also a "Silent Night" museum to go with the chapel and you can still see the house in which Joseph Mohr lived during his days in Oberndorf.

Back to "Oberndorf - Part I"

Back to: "Salzburg Sightseeing Guide"

Sightseeing by Austrian Province

Bregenz and Vorarlberg - Innsbruck and Tyrol - Salzburg - Salzkammergut - Graz and Styria - Klagenfurt and Carinthia - Wachau and Lower Austria - Vienna - Burgenland

Further Reading

Official Website of Oberndorf

Official Website of Salzburg