It was 1818. In the little town of Oberndorf, Austria, the St. Nicholas church was plagued by a broken organ. It seemed it would be a silent night... But out of that silence rang a song, collaborated from the hearts of two men, that would change the world forever... This is the story of the "Silent Night" CHRISTmas carol, and the memorial chapels erected in its honor.
Oberndorf, Austria, near Salzburg. Home to Pastor Joseph Mohr of St. Nicholas church and composer Franz Xaver Gruber. Here, "Silent Night" was written and first sung, accompanied by a guitar, in 1818. Photo circa 1890
More information on the hymn, composers, original chapel, and region is on display in Bronner's chapel.
The St. Nicholas church was damaged by annual high waters of the Salzach River that flow from the Alps in the Salzburg region. The church was rebuilt on higher ground in 1906 and a chapel was erected on a landscaped mound over the original altar site, which was dedicated in 1937.
"Stille Nacht" (Silent Night), the most beloved and widely known Christmas hymn in the world, has been translated into more languages than any other religious Christmas song.
In 1819, organ builder Karl Mauracher brought "Silent Night" to his home area of Fügen in Austria's Tyrol province. The Strasser and Rainer folk singers from Fügen included the song in their concerts, helping the carol to spread throughout Europe. In 1839 the Rainers brought "Silent Night" to the U.S.A. when they sang it in front of Wall Street's Trinity Church in New York City.
Visit the Silent Night home page with extensive information about the song, translations, and multimedia files.
In 1976 while on a European buying trip, Bronner's originator Wally Bronner discovered the serene chapel in Oberndorf. There he found inspiration for the memorial he longed to create in thanksgiving to God for His multitude of blessings throughout the years.
With permission from Oberndorf city officials, Wally set out to create the 28' x 28' x 56' octagonal replica on the perfect tract of land that welcomes visitors to Frankenmuth, Michigan's "Little Bavaria" through the south end of town.
Wally presents his formal request for permission to replicate the chapel to Oberndorf city officials in February of 1989.
November 24, 1989. Sketches of the Oberndorf chapel arrive with a letter of consent.
Wally, Irene, & staff carefully chronicle the chapel's history and details to share with visitors.
Construction begins 1992.
Staff member Doris Reda contributes a hand-crocheted filet altar cloth, closely replicated from that of the original chapel.
"Silent Night" is displayed in over 300 languages along the lamppost lined walkway.
A large Advent wreath, star, and crown hang from the ceiling.
Long-time Walther League friend Ted Smithey presents Wally & Irene with a Swiss crucifix coincidentally carved in 1818- the same year Silent Night was first sung with guitar.
Staff artist Connie Larsen carves an angel design and inscription in the wood door. "Friede den Menschen auf Erden die einer guten Willen sind." Which translates: Glory to God in the highest and peace to His people on earth."
A memorial wreath and guitar, which is used in Bronner's annual sing-along celebration on Dec. 24, is also on display. Regularly led by Wally Bronner and a guest guitarist until the time of his passing, Bronner's continues the tradition annually from 3:00-3:15 PM EST.
Interior view of chancel area in Bronner's replica of the Silent Night Chapel which can be viewed by guests through a glass partition.
Inset image provides an interior view of the Oberndorf chapel alter area.
Austrian dignitaries and business friends participated in the November 20, 1992 dedication.
In 1995 Bronner's staff surprised Wally and family with two original stained glass window panels designed by staff artist Connie Larsen. The beautiful glasswork was completed by Kathy Chesney of Kelley Glass in Saginaw, Michigan.
"Silent Night" may be heard inside and outside the chapel grounds. Bronner's display also includes a life-size nativity. Inside, guests may view the message of Christ's birth as told in Luke 2:1-19, in 30 different languages. The inspirational landmark is fully illuminated at night, and open daily for visitation and meditation. (It is not intended for services or ceremonies).
By the 1992 dedication in Frankenmuth, Bronner's had expanded Austria's library of "Silent Night" in 33 languages to 100. Guests continued submitting versions, making it possible for Wally to present 175 translations to Oberndorf's silent Night Museum for the 175th anniversary at the Silent Night Symposium at the University of Salzburg.
By 1999, Wally Bronner was blessed to share the hymn in over 300 languages at the Joseph Mohr Symposium in Wagrain. There the governor of the Austrian province of Salzburg awarded Wally the silver medal for Science, Culture, and Religion, which he accepted on behalf of all who made the collection possible!
Bronner's replica Silent Night Chapel of that in Oberndorf, Austria, greets guests from the south entrance to the city of Frankenmuth, Michigan.