Christmas and Philatelic Connections From Austria

A 1949 stamp honors the composers of “Silent Night.”
A 1949 stamp honors the composers of “Silent Night.”

One of the best-loved Christmas songs of all time originated in 1818 in Austria.

Joseph Mohr, then assistant pastor at the church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, had written a poem called “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht” (“Silent Night, Holy Night”) several years earlier, and he asked the St. Nicholas choir director and organist, Franz Gruber, to compose music for the words, for two solo voices accompanied by a guitar and choir.

A 1968 stamp features the crèche at St. Nicholas in Oberndorf.
A 1968 stamp features the crèche at St. Nicholas in Oberndorf.

Legend has it that the music was composed in a short time because the church organ was not working and Christmas Eve was at hand. A more recent look at the history suggest that the song was unlikely composed in an afternoon or two, as the oft-repeated story says. No matter where the truth lies, “Silent Night” (“Stille Nacht”) was sung for the first time for midnight mass on December 24, 1818 with Mohr, Gruber, and the choir.

 

The church was damaged several times, particularly by flooding and was torn down in 1913. A replica — the Silent Night Chapel with seating for no more than 20 — was built in its place and opened in 1937. A pink building next to the chapel is the vicarage in which Joseph Mohr lived while serving in Oberndorf between 1817 and 1819.

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