There are three Silent Night locations in Upper Austria: Hochburg-Ach und Ried im Innkreis were two important stops in the life of Franz Xaver Gruber. Steyr, on the other hand, was where the first printed version of “Silent Night” was published. Those following the traces of “Silent Night” will get to explore beautiful natural landscapes and countless rustic little towns steeped in deep history. The upper part of the Innviertel region is a more quiet and romantic area: The “Salzachdurchbruch” is a natural spectacle that is not far and the seemingly mystical “Ibmer Moor”, incidentally the biggest moor in Austria, is just around the corner as well. Nature lovers should also head out to the Kalkalpen National Park. And during Advent, countless festive markets and events underscore Steyr’s reputation as a Christmas paradise.
Day 1 “Franz Xaver Gruber’s childhood and adolescence in Hochburg-Ach”
The Silent Night tour through Upper Austria begins in the little town of Hochburg-Ach: Here, in the upper part of the Innviertel region, peace and tranquillity reign. The Austrian-German border is not far. Just around the corner flows the Salzach river, which, shortly thereafter, flows into the Inn river. From here, you have a magnificent view of the region’s hilly landscape, as the Weilhart Forest surrounds municipality like a horseshoe, whose first official mention goes all the way back to 878. Here, in Hochburg-Ach, Franz Xaver Gruber was born in 1787 with the Christian name “Conrad”. His house of birth — the Steinpointsölde — was a little farmer’s house where his parents lived with the six children. Next to agriculture, linen weaving was an additional source of income, a trade which Franz Xaver Gruber also learned. In 1805, Gruber spent three months in Burghausen in Bavaria on the other side of the Salzach river in order to improve his organ skills and his overall musical abilities. When Burghausen was taken by French troops, he had to leave the city prematurely.
Highlights in Hochburg-Ach:
- A visit to the Franz Xaver Gruber Memorial House (“Grubahäusl”) in Hochburg-Ach makes life in a poor family of linen weavers during the time of the Napoleonic Wars very accessible. The little, beautifully fitted museum reveals what life was like for farmers and workers around 1800. The old wooden house, which is over 200 years old, is identical to Gruber’s birth house in terms of style, form and design. A number of goods and objects in the house tell the family’s story: The most precious piece is the loom with which Franz Xaver Gruber learned the weaving trade. Curator Hans Schwarzmayr and his team are happy to provide guided tours upon prior registration.
- A walk on the Franz Xaver Gruber Peace Path reveals the true, timeless meaning of the song. Each of the individual stations represents one of the song’s verses and communicates the global dissemination of the song’s peace message across all continents. In contrast, the stations also carry information about the troubling times during which the song came to be. The Peace Path also acts as an inspiring walk through the world’s continents, thus functioning as a meditative journey to inner peace throughout the year.
- Finally, one should definitely not miss out on a visit to the parish church with the Franz Xaver Gruber Memorial Organ. Here, the only 11-year-old Franz Xaver Gruber demonstrated his extraordinary skills in the year 1798, when he substituted for a teacher that had fallen ill. A key moment in the boy’s life: For from this moment on, even his father was finally convinced by Gruber’s talents. An instrument was acquired immediately and young Franz was finally allowed to start taking lessons.
Day 2 “Ried im Innkreis — teacher training and the Silent Night Nativity Scene”
On the same evening or the next morning, the journey continues into Ried im Innkreis, around 60 kilometres away. This is where Franz Xaver Gruber completed his teacher training in 1806. Like many other places in the Innviertel region, the centre of Ried im Innkreis also includes many of the typically Bavarian Baroque facades. Only in 1779 did Ried im Innkreis finally join Upper Austria along with the rest of the Innviertel region. During the days of Napoleon, the area switched back and forth between Bavaria and Austria several times.
The hurdles that the Nativity Scene from the St. Nikola Church from Oberndorf had to go through in order to make it to Ried im Innkreis were similarly difficult. After the church was demolished, it first ended up in the attic, then in the collection of the pastor Johann Veichtlbauer. He then donated his objects to Ried im Innkreis in 1933. And that is how the original Silent Night Nativity Scene, in front of which the perhaps most famous Christmas song of all time was performed for the very first time, ended up in the Innviertler Volkskundehaus Museum in Ried im Innkreis.
The highlight in Ried im Innkreis:
- The Innviertler Volkskundehaus Museum harbours the original Silent Night Nativity Scene from the St. Nikola Church in Oberndorf. The Nativity Scene was created following Venetian examples in around 1800 and contains figures typical for the Inn-Salzach region: Hands and feet are carved from wood; the heads are made of wax. The shepherds are dressed like the farmers and mariners of the time.
Day 3 “Steyr is the glowing centre of the Christindl Region”
The next Silent Night location is the around 90-kilometre-distant Steyr at the Kalkalpen National Park. “Silent Night” initially began spreading outwards in the form of oral transmissions and handwritten transcripts. The song’s first printed version was created in Steyr in 1830, in the form of a pamphlet with four different Christmas songs. An impressive archival discovery demonstrated that the song’s printed dissemination indeed began in Steyr.
Highlights in Steyr:
- Beginning in November 2018, Austria’s first Christmas Museum in Steyr will exhibit a replica of Silent Night’s first text print. Guided tours of the Christmas Museum are available throughout the year upon prior registration: Among the special attractions are an extensive collection of historical Christmas jewellery from the years 1830 to 1930, 200 dolls, as well as a ride on a train across three floors all the way up to the angel workshop on the top floor — a technological marvel on rails. The Christmas Museum is visited by the “Steyrer Christkindl” every Saturday and Sunday during the Advent period.
- A visit to the Baroque Christkindl Pilgrimage Church in the world-famous pilgrimage destination of Christkindl in Steyr. The church harbours a ten-centimetre-tall wax figure of Baby Jesus holding the cross and the crown of thorns in his hands. During Advent, the “Christkindl Post Office” opens its gates to visitors. Around two million letters are sent into the world annually here.
- During the Advent period, there are countless Advent markets in the Christkindl region, such as in Steyr’s old town, on the promenade, in Garsten, Lamberg Castle or in Steinbach an der Steyr. To get there in the most nostalgic way possible, take the oldest 760 mm narrow-gauge railway in Austria, the Steyrtal Museumsbahn: The ride into the Advent calendar town of Steinbach an der Steyr takes around one hour.