Oberndorf, Austria: The Silent Night Chapel
About the “Silent Night Chapel”:
Certainly one the world’s favorite Christmas Carols, “Silent Night” was performed on Christmas Eve 1818 for the first time. The Napoleonic Wars (1803–1815) had finally ended and peace had come to the country.
At that time a priest named Fr. Joseph Mohr was pastor at Saint Nicholas parish church in Oberndorf, Austria. He had written the lyrics to “Stille Nacht” two years prior to that, but never set them to music.
On Christmas eve he presented the lyrics to Franz Xaver Gruber, who was a school teacher in the nearby village of Arnsdorf as being the organist and choirmaster for Saint Nicholas Church here in Oberndorf. As it happened, the church organ was broken and so Franz wrote the music to be played on the guitar.
Father Joseph and Franz then performed Stille Nacht for the first time that Christmas Eve, with Father Joseph playing the guitar as well as singing. So for those who lament the fact that we have guitars in some of our Masses, now you know that this is not a recent phenomenon!
The song later became translated into main languages, and although the tempo was changed a bit it became world famous.
In 1914, at the height of World War I, there was a short truce on the front lines on Christmas Eve. Both sides sung Silent Night in French, English and German. It was the one carol that all the troops knew.
The original chapel was destroyed during flooding in 1920 and another one built in its place. Later it was replaced by the small chapel you see today. The chapel is open but very plain inside. Just an altar, some pews and a guest book. Many people like to pose for pictures in front of it.
There is also a Silent Night Museum in the town.
If you get the chance to be there at Christmas time there is a Christmas market here as well and the Christmas Eve presentation is moving, but very crowded.
Traveling to Oberndorf:
The village is located about 20 miles North of Salzburg. There is local train service (called the Lokalbahn) from Salzburg. You need to change trains once, and travel time is about two hours. Get train & bus schedules, flights, see fares & buy tickets here.
Address: Stille Nacht Platz, 5110 Oberndorf bei Salzburg
GPS coordinates: 47° 56′ 44.0628” N, 12° 56′ 11.0904” E
Tel: +43 6272 44220
Click here for the Silent night museum website.
In the U.S. there is a replica of the Silent Night Chapel at Bronners Christmas Wonderland in Frankenmuth, Michigan, that bills itself as the world’s largest Christmas store.