Monday, December 24, 2012

The Dawn of Redeeming Grace

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and Child.
Holy Infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night, holy night,
Child of God, Love’s pure light;
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

Josef Mohr, 1818; alt.
Tune: STILLE NACHT (Irregular)
Franz Gruber, 1818

Many people all over the world know the now-famous story of this popular Christmas hymn, written for the church of St. Nicholas in Oberndorf, Austria.  The church organ was broken that Christmas, and Fr. Mohr, the assistant priest, and Franz Gruber, the organist, collaborated on a new song that could be sung as a duet, with guitar accompaniment and a girls' chorus.

The first translation into English appears to have been by Emily Elizabeth Steele Elliott (Stilly night, holy night) for the choir of her church in Brighton in 1856 (though it was not published until years later), and was followed by several others, including these: 

Holy night! peaceful night! (1863) by Miss J.M. Campbell
Silent night! hallowed night (1865) Christian Hymnbook
Holy night! calmly bright (1867) by Mary D. Moultrie
Peaceful night, all things sleep (1872) Carols for St. Stephen's Church
Silent night, holiest night (1875) by Dr. A. Edersheim
Still the night, holy the night! (1881) by Stopford A. Brooke 

The current familiar translation, by an unknown writer, first appeared in an Episcopal Sunday School Hymnal (1871) edited by Charles Hutchins, the rector of Grace Church in Medford, Massachusetts.

I know that people continue to write new Christmas hymns for their churches' worship, but it 's unlikely that any of them will become as widely known as this one.

Two Years Ago: Jesus our Brother, strong and good

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