Silent Night Memorial Chapel in Oberndorf © Tourismus Salzburg GmbH

Silent Night! Holy Night!

Silent Night! Holy Night!

“Silent Night! Holy Night!” is one of the most famous Christmas carols in the world and has been translated into more than 330 languages and dialects. But what may be surprising to hear is that this song originated in the province of Salzburg.

1816, Mariapfarr - Lyrics written by Joseph Mohr

The song’s lyrics were written in 1816 in the pilgrimage destination Mariapfarr in Lungau region, about 120 km south of the city of Salzburg. It was first written as a poem by the young Joseph Mohr who spent his first years in priesthood. The landscape and long winter months inspired the lyrics of the song. Today, the museum in Mariapfarr in the old parsonage as well as the altarpiece featuring the baby Jesus with his "curly hair" can be visited.

1818, Arnsdorf - A moving melody emerges

The famous melody was composed in 1818 in Arnsdorf - neighboring Oberndorf - upon the request of Joseph Mohr to the elementary school teacher Franz Xaver Gruber. The small village school where Franz Xaver Gruber taught for 21 years still exists today. It is considered the oldest elementary school in Austria. The old teacher's apartment on the first floor houses a museum. The pilgrimage church "Maria im Mösl", which is part of the town, was also the domain of Franz Xaver Gruber as a sacristan and organist. The beautifully decorated church gives evidence to the thriving pilgrimage culture of past centuries. The church’s organ dates back to 1745.

1818, Oberndorf - A song goes out into the world

On Christmas Eve 1818, the song’s first performance was given in the St. Nikola church in Oberndorf. Joseph Mohr accompanied the piece with the guitar and sang the tenor voice while Franz Gruber sang the baritone voice.

Since then, the chapel fell victim to the frequent flooding caused by the river Salzach. A memorial chapel was erected. It has become the town’s landmark and attracts thousands of visitors each year. The museum next door houses artifacts and testimonies from the time when Joseph Mohr worked here as curate and also provides insights into the trade of boatmen around that time.

The organ builder Mauracher brought the song into the Zillertal region from where it was spread across the country by the Strasser singers from Laimach and the Rainer singers. The song was performed during a visit by Emperor Franz I and Tsar Alexander I at the castle of Fügen. After a concert tour of Europe, the Rainer singers set off for America in 1839, where the American premiere of "Silent Night!" took place in front of the burned out Trinity Church in New York. In 2011, the song was recognized by the UNESCO as an intangible cultural heritage.

For the annual memorial mass in Oberndorf on 24 December all verses of "Silent Night!” are sung. Spend Christmas Eve in the town where this famous carol was created and experience a performance its original version on our Silent Night Holy Night Tour.