The city of Salzburg and its environs has three great musical traditions. The first is that of home town composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart; the second is the Von Trapp family of Sound of Music fame; the third is the tradition of the Christmas Carol Silent Night, the most popular carol of the Romantic period and arguably the greatest carol ever composed in German. Technically produced and performed for the first time in the small town of Oberndorf just outside of Salzburg, the people of Oberndorf have turned their famous tune into a cottage tourist industry. In addition to the regionally famous Silent Night Chapel, Oberndorf boasts a small museum honoring the carol.
The writing of Silent Night has become something of a popular Christmas legend. It was written and first performed on Christmas Eve in 1818 by Josef Mohr, a priest, and Franz Gruber, a schoolmaster. As the story goes, Mohr desired a new carol for the Christmas service, and needed something quickly that could be performed on the guitar as the organ was out of service. From this humble beginning, the new carol spread like wildfire throughout Europe. By the mid-1800s Silent Night had become the small town’s unofficial Christmas anthem.
Unfortunately, the Church of St. Nicholas, where the song was first performed, was destroyed by a flood in the early 20th century. In 1937, a new church was erected near the site, the Silent Night Chapel, dedicated to the carol which has made the small Austrian town so famous. The chapel stands amidst a grove of trees which are often decorated during the holidays. Nearby is the Silent Night Museum, located inside the old Mohr home, which features exhibits on the carol’s composer, as well as the guitar on which it is believed Silent Night was first played.
The Silent Night Chapel and Museum are located on the northern outskirts of Oberndorf, about fifteen miles north of Salzburg. A national Silent Night Society oversees the various Silent Night sites in the area. Pilgrimages to the town are obviously very popular in December, when Silent Night and other carols are performed throughout the holiday season. Visitor information was not available as of this writing. Web: http://stillenacht.at (official website of the Silent Night Chapel)