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The Catholic History Behind "Silent Night": How a Priest & a Faulty Organ Gave Us the Beloved Christmas Hymn

It’s been over 200 years since the melody for Silent Night was written.

One of the most beloved Christmas carols of all time began in an unexpected, but clever way–all because an organ did not work.

Here’s the story:

On Dec. 23, 1818, Father Joseph Mohr, assistant pastor of Saint Nicholas Catholic Church in Oberndorf, Austria, watched a group of actors perform a Christmas play.

The play was supposed to take place at the church, but was moved to someone’s home because the church organ wasn’t working.

After the play, Father Mohr walked home contemplating the biblical account of the story of Jesus’ birth. He took an alternative route this time, coming upon a hilltop overlooking his village covered in snow.

The peaceful view of the village reminded him of a poem he wrote two years prior about baby Jesus. Legend says this inspired him to put his poem to music, thinking it might make a good song for his congregation on Christmas Eve.

He then went to his parish’s organist, Franz Xaver Gruber. Since the organ did not work, the poem had to be composed for guitar. Gruber came up with a melody within a few hours, and they sang it for the very first time on Dec. 24, 1818, at Saint Nicholas Catholic Church.

After fixing the organ a few weeks later, Karl Mauracher, a well-known organ builder, asked Gruber to test it. He played Silent Night, and Mauracher loved it so much that he brought it back to his village of Kapfing.

As a result, the Rainers and the Strassers, who were well-known family singers at the time, heard the song and also loved it. They added it to their Christmas performances, which spread it throughout Europe.

In 1834, the Strasser Sisters performed the song before King Frederick William IV of Prussia. He then asked his cathedral choir to play it every year on Christmas Eve.

The Rainer Singers brought the song to the United States twenty years later, singing it in German at the Alexander Hamilton Monument in New York City.

The song then spread throughout the world and is one of the most beloved Christmas carols in history.

Watch ChurchPOP’s “Silent Night” video below:

Click here if you cannot see the video above.

Merry Christmas!

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