'Silent Night' gains World Heritage List recognition from UNESCO

By  Jonathan Luxmoore, Catholic News Service
  • April 7, 2011
'SIlent Night' has been added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in recognition of its role in fostering cultural diversity. (CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemit z) WARSAW, Poland - The world's most popular Christmas carol, "Silent Night," has been added to UNESCO's World Heritage List in recognition of its role in fostering cultural diversity.

"This is a song of freedom for the world, whose beautiful melody and text have inspired versions in more than 300 languages," Michael Neureiter, president of Austria's Silent Night Society, told Catholic News Service.

"Although it comes from the Catholic tradition, its calm, harmonic sound has made it accessible internationally. As such, it's not just a Christian song, but also a human song."

"Stille Nacht," or "Silent Night," was written as a poem in 1816 by Fr. Joseph Mohr in Mariapfarr, where he was assigned as an assistant parish priest. It premiered as a carol for two solo voices on Christmas Eve 1818 at the newly established St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf, near Salzburg, with music composed by the church organist, Franz Gruber.

In his 1854 memoir, Gruber said the carol had "met with general approval" by the congregation, which included local boat builders and shipping labourers. He wrote that he had sung the bass part himself, while Mohr played the guitar because the church organ was not working.

Speaking at a news conference in Vienna in late March, Maria Walcher, director of the Austrian Commission of UNESCO, said the carol had been added to the heritage list for its "key contribution to sustaining cultural diversity."

"This song is viewed worldwide as expressing the essence of the Alpine Christmas. It has a clear foundation of identity because of this," Walcher said.

"For many, it represents the essence of the Christmas carol. Church communities of various confessions have sung and played it, along with choirs and music groups, kindergartens and schools from one generation to the next, spreading worldwide the Christmas message of Christ's birth."

Neureiter said items on the World Heritage List must be recognized as being of universal cultural and social value by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization member-states. He said Archbishop Alois Kothgasser of Salzburg had backed efforts to have the carol recognized and protected.

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