Joseph Mohr – the author of "Silent Night" and his connection to Hintersee
as parish priest
Joseph Mohr is one of the most famous lyricists in the world. Most people, however, do not know his name, yet everyone knows his carol "Silent Night! Holy Night!" which has been translated into over 300 languages. But who was Joseph Mohr? And what is his connection to Hintersee?
Joseph Mohr worked as a vicar in Hintersee from December 1827 to February 1837. Today's Haus Salzstein, one of the buildings of the Hintersee guest house, is next to the old vicarage where Joseph Mohr lived. Haus Salzstein is one of the oldest buildings in the village of Hintersee and was built in 1748; it remained unaltered until Austria's wave of town and village renovation in 1989. On 2 May 1999, the old building was officially consecrated as a "Schatzkammer Land Salzburg" project and used as a museum with several exhibits in memory, remembrance and commemoration of Joseph Mohr.
When Joseph Mohr moved to Hintersee in 1827 ...
...Austria was going through hard times. Hintersee was a small community and had only 272 inhabitants. The population consisted mainly of poor workers who earned their living from the forests, agriculture and hunting. At this time, Joseph Mohr, the parish priest, was mainly concerned with children's education and had a difficult relationship with teacher Johann Niederreiter, who was often late and preferred to spend his time in the village inn.
Joseph Mohr's good deeds in Hintersee
Another of Joseph Mohr's good deeds was how he dealt with poachers. As the wealthy owned the game in Salzburg at the time and the poor were not allowed to hunt, there was a lot of game in the then hunting region of Hintersee, leading to a lot of poaching at the time. The people got food and poachers made some money. Joseph Mohr bought the meat from the poachers and gave it to poor families and those with lots of children, without earning much money, if any, for himself from this exchange. It was not long before Joseph Mohr was reported and came into conflict with the legal system.
Christmas at the time of the author of "Silent Night"
As the first-ever Christmas tree was erected in 1827 by a family in the Old Market in Salzburg, Joseph Mohr celebrated his first Christmas in Hintersee. In those days, among the poor (i.e. almost everyone in the country) Christmas was a very frugal affair. In Hintersee at around 5 o'clock on Christmas Eve, "Raunudeln" would be served. This was followed by the midnight mass and then a fortifying meat soup.
The focal points of Christmas festivities in Hintersee were Christmas mass, the nativity scene and everyone in the village singing together "Silent Night! Holy Night!" – all customs which are widespread in Austria today and are still celebrated in many places. This is how Joseph Mohr celebrated 9 Christmases in Hintersee, before he moved to Wagrain in Pongau in February 1837 where he drew his last breath on 4 December 1848.