In Mariapfarr, Joseph Mohr started his first position as an assistant priest: He also met his grandfather there and wrote the lyrics of “Silent Night” in 1816. It was as if the young priest first had to return to his roots in order to create something new. The people were suffering from hunger and poverty and yet the young parish priest continued to hold firmly onto his belief in God: The poem is an immortal testament to his faith.
Mariapfarr, back in the day
It was autumn of 1815 when the 23-year-old Joseph Mohr took up his first position in Salzburg following his premature priestly ordination. He became an assistant priest in Mariapfarr in Salzburg’s Lungau region and thus returned to his roots. Joseph Mohr’s ancestors on his father’s side had resided in Lungau since the 17th century.
The population in SalzburgerLand and in the remote Lungau region had gone through difficult times. Salzburg had become a bleak and hopeless place: Since the year 1803, it had gone through five changes in rulers. Having risen from a clerical archbishopric to an electorate, it fell to Austria in 1806, three years later to France and in 1810 to Bavaria. Only in the spring of 1816, the long period of insecurity, war and violence was coming to an end: On 1 May 1816, Salzburg was finally handed over back to Austria. Hunger and poverty were dominating the social landscape. The year 1815 made it into the history books as the “Year Without a Summer”. A volcano had erupted in Indonesia in April 1815 and the enormous eruption negatively influenced the climates of many parts of the world for several years. Rain, cold and bad weather led to countless crop failures. In 1816, grain prices soared by 150 per cent in just a few months!
Joseph Mohr’s special relationship with Mariapfarr
In Lungau, the young assistant priest was more than in demand. But his sociable nature — definitely not a given for clergymen at the time — helped him build up trust. He moved people and also knew how to relate to the farmers, the poor and the children. The many years of war had financially ruined the population. The high price of grain and the crop failures added additional pressure on the people.
With this situation as a backdrop, Joseph Mohr composed the poem “Silent Night” consisting of six stanzas in 1816. Unusual at the time, but typical for Joseph Mohr: He wrote the poem in German. The Christmas mass in the parish church “Unsere Liebe Frau” (Our beloved woman) was also performed in Latin and German, which may have inspired Joseph Mohr. The poem expresses that which gave Joseph Mohr hope during this difficult time: Irrevocable faith in God and in the salvation of the world manifested in the Christmas miracle.
In Mariapfarr, Joseph Mohr also met his grandfather on his father’s side. He visited his birth house, the “Scharglerkeusche”, as well as his final residence, the “Haasenkeusche”. Joseph Mohr’s grandfather died in 1816 in the company of his grandson. After his second winter in Mariapfarr, the first symptoms of Mohr’s lung disease began to surface. He left Lungau in August 1817 and returned to the city of Salzburg for recovery.
On the traces of “Silent Night” in Mariapfarr:
- Mariapfarr in the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve Salzburg’s Lungau is considered among the sunniest places in Austria. For decades, guests have been coming here to escape the bustle of the city during the summer months. As a Silent Night location, Mariapfarr commemorates Joseph Mohr’s heritage in many ways.
- The Silent Night Museum in the northern part of the parish documents Joseph Mohr’s story beginning with his family tree all the way to his two-year stay in Mariapfarr. Among the museum’s attractions is the large nativity scene in the reconstructed “Mohr Room”. The approximately one hundred — partly Baroque — figures originate from the year 1750 and already adorned the nativity scene during Mohr’s time. The baptismal and death registries from 1815 to 1817 with personal entries by Mohr are also on display, including the death of his grandfather. During his time in Mariapfarr, Joseph Mohr lived in the vicar’s residence on the first floor on the right section of the vicarage.
Opening times: Monday and Thursday from 4pm to 6pm (guided tours at 4:30 on both days). During October, only Thursday from 4pm to 6pm (guided tours at 4:30). Closed during April, May and November. Guided tours for groups of 6 or more only possible with advance registrations via +43 (0) 6473 8766 and can be booked at any time. www.stillenachtmuseum.at | www.wallfahrtsmuseum.at
- The parish church “Unsere Liebe Frau” (our beloved woman) always played a special pastoral and historic role in the Archbishopric of Salzburg. Particularly notable is the altar image of the Madonna which is said to have inspired Mohr to create his poem. After two-year-long renovations, the church and the altar were consecrated again in August 2016, as was the new Silent Night fountain on the newly developed Joseph Mohr Square.
- A wonderful one-hour long walk around Mariapfarr leads, among other things, to Lungau’s oldest church in Althofen, as well as to the “Scharglerkeusche”, where Mohr’s ancestors used to reside. The starting point is the Pilgrimage Church in Mariapfarr from which you can follow the well-marked Nordic Walking Trail No. 7. Passing the Örglwirt hotel, Route 7 follows the Totengassl street through the beautiful birch road down to the Baroque Round Church Althofen. Much evidence speaks for the preceding pre-Romanesque building having been an ancient parish mentioned in a document from the year 754. Trail No. 7 continues straight ahead, then meets a road which it follows after taking a left turn whilst remaining by the bank of the Taurach river. At the Taurach bridge, move onto the other side of the river because there, near the bridgehead, you will find the Scharglerkeusche building, where the Mohr family resided in modest circumstances. This Lungau-typical house is a European cultural heritage site and is privately owned. Back on the other bank of the river, follow Route 7 and the course of the Taurach river, which then forks to the left at a tractor road. Cross a few metres of elevation to make your way through the Stockerfeld settlement from where you can take a left to return to Mariapfarr.