France boasts a very old and beautiful heritage of Christmas music, with wonderful carols dating back to the Renaissance. However, no French Christmas carol has quite the fascinating history, or has risen to such heights of fame and popularity worldwide, as the Cantique de Noël, or O Holy Night. With original lyrics by an anti-clerical socialist and original music by a Jewish composer, this highly unlikely musical collaboraion has become one of the greatest Christmas Carols of all time.
The strange story of O Holy Night began in 1847 in the small town of Roquemaure in Southern France, where a local clergyman asked Placide Cappeau, a wine merchant and poet, to pen an original carol for the Christmas service. Cappeau, who later became a dedicated socialist and anti-church activist, agreed. On a visit to Paris, he collaborated with his friend, the Jewish composer Adolphe Adam, and completed the carol just a few weeks before Christmas. O Holy Night was an immediate success, and soon became popularized throughout France.
However, when word of the socialist and Jewish origins of the carol got out, it was condemned by the Catholic Church. In the end this did not stop the popularity of the carol from spreading. In 1855, the American music critic John Sullivan Dwight translated the Cantique de Noël into English and introduced it to the New World, where it quickly became one of the most beloved Christmas songs of all time. O Holy Night also had a strange brush with scientific history in 1906, when it became the first song of any sort to be broadcast over the radio airwaves.
The place most closely associated with the Cantique de Noël is the Collegiate of Roquemaure, just north of Avignon, where the carol made its debut on Christmas Eve in 1847. As of this writing, no other visitor information was available for this site. Placide Cappeau is buried in the town graveyard, while Adolphe Adam is buried in the Montemartre Cemetery in Paris. Web: www.ot-roquemaure.com (official tourism website of Roquemaure)