Europe in the early 1800s was a place of great war, turmoil and upheaval. Even after the Napoleonic Wars officially ended in 1815, it's effects continued to take their toll.
The year 1816 was one in which national and municipal borders were divided, changed and reset. Areas, such as the Principality of Salzburg, which had long been ecclesiastical provinces of the Church were put under national authority and secularized. Many industries and trades that certain communities depended upon were decimated by the wars and never recovered--spinning the economies into economic depression.
At this time and in one of these communities, a small-town (Maria Pfarr) assistant pastor and Austrian Catholic Priest, penned the words to a poem that would one day echo through time and space. The words laid dormant, however, for another two years.
Shortly before Christmas in 1818, the organ in Joseph Mohr's church broke and could not be repaired in time for Christmas. On December 24, Joseph Mohr went to the home of his friend, the musician-schoolteacher Franz Gruber, and asked Franz to write a melody and guitar accompaniment to his earlier poem so that it could be sung at the Midnight Mass. Set to a guitar accompaniment with two solo voices and a chorus, "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!" was performed for the first time in St. Nicholas Church, Oberdorf, Austria--because of a broken organ.
Since then, the song we know as "Silent Night, Holy Night" is largely considered the most translated and sung song in human history. It has been referred to by some as, "The Song Heard 'Round The World." On Christmas Eve 1944, on various fronts of World War II it has been reported that Allied and Axis soldiers alike stopped their fighting and sung together "Silent Night, Holy Night."
Although it was written and composed by Catholics for a Catholic Eve mass, the song proved to be much more popular in Protestant than Catholic churches because of the meaning of its lyrics.
From Todd Leupold's Sermon "Silent Night, Holy Night"
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