The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

150 years of 'Silent Night'

During the 19th century, an Episcopal priest at Trinity Church in New York City enjoyed translating European hymns and carols into English. When an Austrian carol, "Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!," caught his attention, "Silent Night" was born and began its journey to become the world's best-loved Christmas carol.

John Freeman Young (1820-1885) translated many hymns into English but "Silent Night" soared far beyond the Trinity Church choir repertoire. The English verses are sung in great cathedrals in Australia, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States as well as tiny churches in South Africa, Sierra Leone, Guam, and Jamaica. It may have begun its life as a carol in an Episcopal church but today it's an integral part of the liturgical Christmas celebrations of countless religious denominations.

Rev. Young became the Second Episcopal Bishop of Florida in 1867 but this was not his first assignment in the state. In 1845 he was sent to his first post as a deacon at St. John's Church in Jacksonville. The state was still a wilderness and John Young was one of only two Episcopal churchmen in Florida at that time. In January 1846, Deacon John Young traveled to Tallahassee where he was ordained a priest at St. John's Episcopal Church.

During his time as Bishop of Florida, John Freeman Young did much of the work of planting new Episcopal Florida missions himself. Traveling the length and breadth of the state on horseback, in stagecoach and carts, by steamer and sailboat and often on foot, he started missions wherever he found a few Episcopal families. Today, you can still find "Carpenter Gothic" churches that he founded. The wooden churches followed the plans of his friend Richard Upjohn, the well-known architect who had designed New York's Trinity Church.

His biography "John Freeman Young Second Bishop of Florida" was published in 1939 and is filled with tales of harrowing experiences as he traveled among the wildcats, panthers, snakes, and alligators in the Florida wilderness.

During a visit to New York he was stricken with pneumonia and died in November 1885. The funeral service was held at St. John's, Jacksonville, the future cathedral and he was laid to rest in the Old City Cemetery in that city. His neighbors in the cemetery include Confederate soldiers, a Florida governor, and Florida pioneers.

Bishop Young's grave monument, a huge granite cross, was blackened with a century of grime and tilted forward when it was brought to public attention in 2002. His wife's white marble gravestone had fallen over and was half buried in the earth. After seven years of coaxing, the Episcopal Diocese of Florida finally paid to have the site restored in 2008. Every December, since 2002, a Christmas wreath has been placed at the grave on behalf of Austria's Silent
Night Society.

John Freeman Young's name is barely known by residents of the city he loved; yet millions throughout the English-speaking world sing his message of "heavenly peace" on Christmas Eve.

Source: Christmas International group at; post by Bill Egan.

Other pages on this website concerning "Silent Night" and Rev. John Freeman Young:

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