Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pilgrimage: The Silent Night Church

On leaving Salzburg, we had one more stop in Austria before we made our way home: the Silent Night Church in Oberndorf, half an hour north of Salzburg. On this site on Christmas Eve, 1818, Joseph Mohr (priest, bottom right) and Franz Gruber (deputy organist and schoolteacher, bottom left) gave the world Silent Night for the first time. The original church was torn down due to flood damage around 1900, so they built this little chapel to commemorate it from 1924-1936, complete with stained glass windows of the pair on either side. Across the walkway is a model that gives you a better shot of the perspective than my earthbound legs can.

Gruber, who learned how to play the organ in only three months, retold how the song came about as its popularity was growing. I found it interesting that his rendition did not mention any mechanical problems with the organ, one of the parts from the traditional retelling that always caught my ear; only that Mohr asked him to write music to the words he had written (perhaps two years earlier) for two solo voices and guitar. Wikipedia tells me the first mention of the broken organ came from a 1909 US publication.

There are three more verses than you know. We have verses 1, 2, an 6. Here the rest are in English as clearly as I can render them without getting them in tune and time:
3. Silent Night! Holy Night!
That brought the world healing
From Heaven's golden heights
Out of the Mercy-fullness let it be seen:
|:Jesus in mortal form.:|

4. Silent Night! Holy Night!
Where today all might
Of Fatherly love poured forth
And, as our homaged brother, embraced
|:Jesus the people of the world:|
(note: Jesus is the one embracing)

5. Silent Night! Holy Night!
Long before were we planned for,
As the Lord freed from the wrath
of the fathers' first-terrored time
|:All the world was promised protection:|

If you want words that go with the music, I have some of those too. You lose a little in the next step of translation, but not much.

I'm very thankful we were able to go there. It was one of the primary reasons I wanted to head north to Salzburg in the first place, having learned about it from Elder Wirthlin. It turns out the German border is right across a bridge in Oberndorf. It has some impressive decorations, so we crossed the border several times. We then drove through a corner of southern Germany, enjoying the Kuhdorfs (Danglisch for cow-villages), pastoral land, and woods.

Not to mention some interesting town markers.

Along the way, we found a fellow whose trailer had overturned on a sharp curve on the sluck roads. We pulled off just ahead and I went back to help. He was carrying hundreds of glass beer steins to a market display to be held Sunday and lost more than half of them to the crash. He was uninjured, thankfully. I helped him move things around, separate the good from the bad, talked to another friendly motorist who stopped and the police. Even though we had been in Austria for a few days, so I had warmed up my German, this was southern Germany and the northerners I lived with told me that the southerners speak such a strange dialect that it's not even German. I understand a little better what they meant. Even though we both spoke in high German, he was really hard to follow, and when other natives came up, I caught the sense of what they were saying, but that was about it. I really wanted to say something like, "This act of service brought to you in part by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Next time you see our missionaries, think about letting them in, k?" At the time, though, the words completely failed me. It's made me ponder a lot in the last several months how I'm doing in my missionary efforts and if I'm actually prepared.

We cut back through Austria again and into very northern Italy. There I had the shock of shocks: they speak German in northern Italy. For 2-3 hours of the drive, the signs were in German and not Italian, the gelateria worker in the pictured village preferred German to Italian, the newspapers were in German, the architecture was Germanic. It took a long time to find Italian again. It was on this trip that we found some of the best gelato, one here at this village and one we caught at 10pm as he was going to bed. I explained to the fellow how much my wife really wanted to find another place for gelato, and he answered that, with love, all things are possible.

That drive in pouring, heavy rain over hairpin and switchback roads of the Alps (yes, I took the scenic route) was something I have not yet had nightmares about. It can only be a matter of time. Steep roads, dense forest, expecting deer and other animals to dart in frnot of me every moment (thank you, Ithaca), the windshield wipers weren't working... it was something else. I was thankful for a GPS system that could warn me of turns. We made it out okay, though, and came home to our sleeping baby who was happy to see us in the morning.

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