The Hymns and Carols of Christmas

John Freeman Young

Translator of Silent Night, Holy Night
Verses 1, 6 and 3 of Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht!

Silent Night, Holy Night - Notes

John Freeman Young was born October 30, 1820, in Pittston, Maine, the son of John and Emma (Freeman) Young. In 1841, he began a course of studies in science at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, but left after his freshman year. He then converted to the Episcopal Church and began studies at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, graduating in 18451. He was ordained a deacon on April 20, 1845, and a month later, on  May 23, 1845, he was assigned to St. John's Church, Jacksonville, Florida. He was ordained as a priest at St. John's Church, Tallahassee, Florida, on January 11, 1846. At that time, he was one of only two clergymen in active parochial service in the entire state, serving until December 15, 1847.

From Florida, he moved to various posts in Texas (1848-51), Mississippi (1852-3) and Louisiana (1854-55).

Photo Left: Stained glass window of Bishop Young. Photo by Bill Egan. Used with permission. Larger Image.

It should be noted that Rev. Young had an early interest in Church architecture. An example is The Chapel of the Cross, Madison, Mississippi, which was constructed in 1848. It is said that he assisted the owner, Margaret Johnstone, in aspects of the design of the chapel.  The first Bishop of Mississippi, Bishop William Mercer Green consecrated the chapel on July 19, 1852.  Bishop Green wrote that a debt was owed to the dedicated labor and elegant taste of Rev. Young. He had also overseen the construction of a gothic style church in Napoleonville, Louisiana in 1854, from "plans obtained from an eminent New York architect," which was described as "the most beautiful edifice of its kind seen in the Southern or Western country" by Bishop Leonidas Polk, first Bishop of Louisiana.

On June 19, 1855, Rev. Young become an assistant minister at Trinity Church, New York City, where he served until his consecration as Bishop of Florida in 1867. This would be a tremendously busy time in the life of the young priest. During his time in New York, he honed his interests in theology, church architecture, and hymnology, which included collecting and translating the great Christian hymns of various churches, published posthumously by Rev. John Henry Hopkins, Jr., Great Hymns of the Church (New York, 1887). Drawing Right: Trinity Church, New York.

In in 1859, Rev. Young published a 16-page pamphlet titled Carols for Christmas Tide (New York: Daniel Dana, Jr.2). The first of the seven carols in this pamphlet was his definitive English translation of the great Lower Austrian hymn Stille Nacht! Heilige Nacht! under the title Silent Night, Holy Night. A scan of that page appears on the right.

(High Resolution: Cover, Silent Night)

In 1860 and 1861, he published Hymns and Music For The Young, Parts 1 and 2, respectively. Part 3 was mentioned in the Preface (dated December 12, 1859) as yet unpublished; it is believed that his "Silent Night" translation was also contained in Part 3. Part 1 was also published in a hard-back edition with the title Hymns for Children (New York : D. Dana, 1860). Part 2 was also published with the title Hymns and Music for the Home. (New York: Gen. Prot. Episc. S.S. Union and Church Book Society, 1864, 5th Edition).

In 1862, he appointed to a "Joint Committee on Hymnody and Metrical Psalmody." He was also served as the secretary of the Russo-Greek Committee of the General Convention, and edited the papers issued by them in furtherance of the intercommunion of the Eastern, Anglican, and American churches. As a result of his work with the Russo-Greek Committee, Rev. Young was awarded the degree to S. T. D. (Doctor of Sacred Theology) from Columbia College in 1865.

Much has been made of the fact that Trinity Church in New York City is near the Alexander Hamilton memorial where, in 1839, the Rainer singers of Austria included Stille Nacht in their repertoire. However, it must be remembered that Rev. Young did not serve at Trinity Church until 16 years later, beginning in 1855.

It has also been said that Bishop Young first heard Stille Nacht while he was in England, Europe and Russia in 1863 [actually, in 1864 according to the Papers of the Russo-Greek Committee]. This claim is unsupported since we have recently learned that first publication was in 1859 as noted above.

On July 25, 1867, Rev. Young was consecrated as the second Bishop of Florida by six bishops, the chief being the Presiding Bishop of the Church, the Rt. Rev. John Henry Hopkins, first Episcopal Bishop of Vermont, 1792-1868; (his son would edit a collection of hymns collected by Young, published posthumously in 1887).  Young succeeded the late Bishop Francis Huger Rutledge, who had died November 6, 1866. Bishop Young would hold this post held until his own death from pneumonia in New York City on November 15, 1885.

The church in Florida had been so devastated by the effects of the Civil War that the Committee on the State of the Church wrote that it was a "wonder" that the church in Florida still had "an organized existence at all." Bishop Young described that time as "a struggle for life." But through his diligent efforts, from 1875 to 1885 the church expanded from 20 parishes or missions and 14 clergy at work — to 48 congregations ministered to by 36 clergy.

Bishop Young traveled extensively throughout the diocese on horseback, in buggies and cart, by streamer and sailboat, and sometimes on foot, but going from Jacksonville to Key West might take a month or more. Even so, in 1880 he reported that "eleven churches built or in progress in one year."

His activities in his Diocese was not limited to building churches and congregations. Shortly after his consecration, Bishop Young purchased the former home of Confederate General Joseph Finegan, turning it into an exclusive girls' school known as the Bishop's School or St. Mary's Priory in Fernandia (later moved to Jacksonville). Coincidentally, General Finegan is also buried in the Old City Cemetery in Jacksonville. Bishop Young also set up a boys' school in Jacksonville, St. John's Male Academy under the patronage of St. John's Church, in 1869. In that same year, he took part in the revival of the University of the South at Sewanee, Tennessee.

His early interest in church architecture also reaped great benefits to his Diocese. While at Trinity Church in New York, Bishop Young met Richard Upjohn, the architect who had designed New York's Trinity Church (consecrated on Ascension Day in 1846). Upjohn had published a book containing detail plans and instructions with which small congregations could build churches. Gothic in style, they looked like a church and felt like a church. In Florida many churches were built in Upjohn's Carpenter Gothic style throughout his diocese. Trinity Episcopal Church in Melrose, FL is an example of this style of architecture; you can find a line drawing of the church at their website, the History of Trinity Episcopal Church. The church was build in 1885-86.

In Key West, Bishop Young organized the first Episcopal church exclusively for blacks, St. Paul's. He also established a Spanish language parish for Cuban immigrants, St. John's. As a result of his two visits to Cuba, that country became an important missionary field for the Episcopal Church in the United States. It was during this time that it is believed that Bishop Young published a pamphlet which contained a series of twenty-five hymns in the Spanish language, with tunes.

During a visit to New York, Bishop Young was stricken with pneumonia and died very suddenly at the age of 65, on Sunday, November 15, 1885.3 His funeral was conducted in St. John’s, Jacksonville, on November 18, and he was buried in Old City Cemetery,3a Jacksonville, Florida. His wife would be buried next to him after her death in 1914 (presumably his second wife, Mary)4.

Two years after his death, the cornerstone to St. Andrew's Episcopal Church was laid. The church was a memorial to Bishop Young, and the land upon which the Church was built was a gift from John N. C. Stockton, Bishop Young's brother-in-law. Now a National Register site, it is currently the home of the Jacksonville Historical Society. For an interior and exterior photograph of the church, see: Weddings & Parties.

In an article written by Christmas Historian Bill Egan4a in 2003, it appears that the graves of Bishop and Mrs. Young have fallen into serious disrepair. Egan reported that the monument has acquired more of a tilt along with more grit and grime, that Mrs. Young's tombstone lies broken on the ground, and that fire ants are building a colony around the sinking slab over Bishop Young's grave. Photographs can be seen online at A Grave in Need.

According to Egan, during a visit to St. Augustine's Trinity Episcopal Parish, the new Bishop Coadjutor of the Diocese of Florida seemed dismayed when he viewed photos of the Young cemetery plot. Bishop Samuel J. Howard stated that he would look into this. Bishop Howard also indicated that he would check on the availability of private donations or historical grants to restore the Young grave site.

Egan indicated that Bishop Howard mentioned that he and Bishop Young shared a similar background. "We both came to Florida from Trinity Church," Bishop Howard said while looking at an album of photos and stories about Young. Bishop Young was the assistant rector at Trinity Church from 1860 to 1867 and Bishop Howard was the vicar at Trinity from 1997 until his recent move to Jacksonville, according to Egan. Bishop Howard was consecrated at Saint John’s Cathedral, Jacksonville on November 1, 2003 and was instituted as bishop of the diocese on January 29, 2004. In addition, both men were educated at Virginia Theological Seminary in Alexandria, Virginia.

Egan also noted that while the graves of Mohr and Gruber are the site of annual Christmas services, the grave of Bishop Young is virtually unvisited. He wrote "While Christmas pilgrims flock to the well-kept graves of Joseph Mohr and Franz Xaver Gruber, the Austrian originators of the world's best-loved carol, Bishop Young's final resting place has been neglected and ignored by people in Jacksonville and the Episcopal Church."

He added that for the past two years, greens were placed on Young's monument in Jacksonville during the Christmas season by a representative of the Silent Night Society of Salzburg, Austria.

On July 14, 2004, Mr. Egan posted the following note on the Christmas International Group at Yahoo:

During the Christmas season [2003], I wrote an article for the "Saint Augustine Record" about the terrible condition of the gravesite of the man who translated "Stille Nacht" into "Silent Night."

Several weeks ago I visited the cemetery again and was happy to see that the monument had been cleaned and that Mrs. Young's gravestone was once again standing after being almost buried in the dirt for a few decades. It was a surprise to find that it wasn't a dark color - but white marble with a beautiful lily carved into the back of it.

The large monument is still tilted forward so that's my next project - to get someone to put it upright again.

Editor's Note: I do not know who performed this service, but my hat is off to them!  Good job and thank-you! And thanks, Bill, for bringing this matter to everyone's attention.

For more information about Bishop Young, including a photograph of his sadly neglected grave in Jacksonville, Florida, see Bill Egan's A Christmas Tale of Three Cities and A Grave In Need. An article written by Caroline Gabsewics entitled Downtown holds a piece of ‘Silent Night’ history appeared in the Jacksonville, FL, Financial News and Daily Record on December 16, 2005, and provided additional details. According to a post at the Christmas International group in early 2008, the Diocese Historian had been appointed to have repairs made to the graves of Bishop and Mrs. Young.

Grave of Bishop Young. Photograph courtesy of Bill Egan, August 2005.

Grave stone of Mrs. Young. Photograph courtesy of Bill Egan, August 2005.

July 2008 Update: his works speak, though he sleepeth ’

The grave sites of Bishop and Mrs. John Freeman Young were repaired recently as reported in the June-July 2008 issue of The Diocesan, DIOCESE 2008.pdf

Current Bishop of Florida, The Rt. Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard, seen here at the grave of his predecessor, noted "Bishop Young was essentially in the same position at Trinity Wall Street that I held before coming here. He was consecrated at Trinity because they could not get three bishops together in Florida to consecrate him. He arrived here in a time of great controversy and then left a great mark on our diocese.”

Diocesan archivist Michael Strock was instrumental is getting these repairs accomplished, under the direction of Bishop Howard.

The article noted that the small tree-shaded City Cemetery became separated from the Cathedral’s neighborhood by construction of the western approach ramps of the Matthews Bridge, and that many in Jacksonville have never seen it.

The article also noted that Bishop Young is revered even beyond the Episcopal Church as the translator of the Christmas carol “Silent Night,” which is sung at his grave and across the Christian world. For the past five Christmases, his granite cross at Old City Cemetery has been decorated with evergreen arrangements on behalf of Austria’s Silent Night Society. Local choirs visit the site, singing carols at Christmas.

The work of Bill Egan was also acknowledged. Bill was quoted as saying John Freeman Young is barely known by residents of the city he loved; yet millions throughout the English-speaking world sing his message of heavenly peace every Christmas season.”

The Diocesan article also contained lengthy quotations from Bishop Young's successor, the Right Rev. Edwin Gardner Weed, third Bishop of Florida:

It is scarcely nine months since I began my work, so that I have hardly done more than learn how great were the labours and trials of my predecessor… I feel I know him well, for his works speak, though he sleepeth. As I go over the Diocese, and behold his works, I feel he has written his own epitaph in the hearts of the people. Laborious and wise; gifted and accomplished; faithful and devoted.

 “Wherever I have been with the convenience of railroads and steamboats, he went on foot or by horse. When I take into account the labours which his extensive travels involved, it seems strange that his physical forces were not exhausted years ago. At Cocoa he went into the woods axe in hand, and prepared a site for the church. From Key West he passed over to Cuba, and established twelve congregations on that wretched island. His missionary labours were enormous. But his labours were not confined to mission work.

 “Throughout the Diocese I have learned how his care extended to the minutest details. His taste is to be seen everywhere. I venture to say there is not a Diocese in the American Church, with as many temples of worship, constructed with the same reference to the true principles of architecture. He was not only a wise and educated master-builder, however; his foresight was markedly shown in the selection of places for the erection of church buildings. When you consider what a wilderness Florida was when he was consecrated, and when you consider, also, how the Church has kept ahead of immigration, and how the population has followed and clustered round the places which he selected, as centers of worship, we must pay him the homage due the wise statesman. Not satisfied with planting and establishing the Church in the most remote districts, he did not rest till he had given the people a love of true Church music, and had instructed them in the proper rendering of the ritual.”

These quotations are found at page 63 of the Pennington biography, "John Freeman Young, Second Bishop of Florida," (Hartford, Conn.: Church Missions Publishing Co., 1939).

The Diocese also contains a brief biography of Bishop Young.

The Translation Of Stille Nacht

The exact date of Bishop Young's translation of Stille Nacht is unknown but likely occurred between 1855 and 1859 while he was an assistant at Trinity Church in New York City. As noted above, a recently discovered pamphlet by Rev. Young titled Carols for Christmas Tide and published in 1859 includes, as its first carol,5 his famous translation: "Silent Night! Holy Night!"

Previously, most sources believed that first publication Bishop Young's version occurred in 1863 (which was also the year of the death of Franz Gruber) in The Sunday-School Service and Tune Book: Selected and arranged by John Clark Hollister6 (New York: E. P. Dutton and Company, 1863; hymn #15, page 34). Below the title, a single line of text gave the only attribution: "From the Third (unpublished) Part of 'Hymns and Music for the Young.' By permission of the Author." However, Rev. Young's name did not appear on the page; neither did the names of Mohr or Gruber. This would be a harbinger; Young's relationship to his famous translation would remain largely unknown until Byron Underwood's 1957 article (discussed below). Hollister accurately reprinted the music and the translation; this would not always be true, as evidenced above. Hymns and Music For The Young - Part First was published in 1860. Part Second was published a year later, 1861.

But although Young's name did not appear on the "Silent Night" page, it did appear on another, All Thy Works, O Heavenly Father - Part Second. In addition to these hymns, Hollister reproduced three other hymns from Young's Hymns and Music For The Young:

These three have only the following attribution: "From 'Hymns and Music for the Young,' by permission of the author."

Another early publication of Young's translation was in A. B. Goodrich's A New Service And Tune Book For Sunday Schools (New York: Gen. Prot. Episc. S. S. Union and Church Book Society, 1863, New Edition, Enlarged, 1866), # 147, p. 133. There was no attribution. However, on the page that contained "Wonderful Night" (#151, p. 140), Goodrich wrote the following: "This, and No. 147, are inserted with the approval of the Rev. J. F. Young, D. D. by whom these delightful carols were first arranged for the children of the Church in this country." There was no other attribution.

"Silent Night" was also published in Charles L. Hutchins, Sunday School Hymnal and Service Book (Medford, MA: 1871) according to The New Oxford Book of Carols (1992). While I have been unable to locate a copy of Hutchins' 1871 edition, however, I did acquire a copy of the 1892 edition of Hutchins' Sunday School Hymnal. This volume, however, did not contain Young's "Silent Night." Rather, it included two versions of Jane Montgomery Campbell's "Holy Night! Peaceful Night!" (#495) and "Holy Night! Peaceful Night!" (under the title "Silent night! peaceful night!" #499). Hutchins did include Young's "Silent Night" in his Carols Old and Carols New (1916, #28, see left, as well as other versions).

After Young's death in 1885, Rev. John Henry Hopkins, Jr., published a collection of Young's translated hymns under the title Great Hymns of the Church (New York, 1887), which included Silent Night, Holy Night, with attribution to "Rev. J. F. Young." Rev. Hopkins is best remembered as the author of We Three Kings Of Orient Are. According to Rev. Hopkins, a few days before his death, Bishop Young "expressed the desire that, should he leave the work incomplete, it should be put into my hands to see through the press." See: Preface - Great Hymns of the Church, and additional notes in Hymns and Music For The Young - Part One - J. Freeman Young.

This was the last time that the name of John Freeman Young was associated with his famous translation for 70 years. During that period, authorship of this most popular English translation was credited to "Anonymous." But in 1957 that Young's name was re-associated with his translation. It was the Rev. Byron Edward Underwood, the Episcopalian Rector of St. Ann's Episcopal Church, Revere, Mass.,7 who published an article in the October, 1957 issue of The Hymn, the official publication of the Hymn Society of America8 that revealed the identity of Young as the author for the first time since 1887. The title of the article was "Bishop John Freeman Young: Translator of 'Stille Nacht;'"9 it appeared on pages 123-130.

Rev. Underwood carefully traced the publication of "Silent Night, Holy Night" from 1863 to 1957, noting that since the appearance of Great Hymns in 1887, Young's name was nowhere associated with the famous hymn. He indicated that this omission would be corrected with the 1958 publication of The Pilgrim Hymnal.

On May 17, 2007, William Egan posted his translation of the three verses not translated by Bishop Young (i.e., verses 3, 4, and 5). This translation was made at the request of Austria's Silent Night Society. The translation, and a recording (using Gruber's original tune), can be found at the Christmas International Group at His posting was message #6320 under the title “Silent Night - The Other Three Verses.” Mr. Egan's translation is included on the page that contains the translation by John Freeman Young (see Silent Night, Holy Night; inclusion of verses 3, 4, and 5 by the kind permission of Mr. Egan).

Other Information About Bishop Young:

The Manuscripts Department, Library of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill holds a collection of papers from Bishop Young. The collection is described as letters chiefly concerning church matters in Florida, Texas, Missouri, Louisiana, and elsewhere, but concerning other matters as well. Topics of letters include living conditions in Florida in 1848, the establishment of an Episcopal school for girls in San Francisco, 1854, and a yellow fever epidemic in Louisiana, 1855. For more information, see the John Freeman Young Papers page.

The Maryland Diocesan Archives in Baltimore, MD also holds some of Bishop Young's papers.

There is a biography with a portrait of Bishop Young at the website of The Episcopal Diocese of Florida. See: The Rt. Rev. John Freeman Young, Second Bishop of Florida.

If you have any additional information about Bishop Young, please .

Additional information about this carol may be found at Silent Night, Holy Night - Notes.


1. According to a letter dated 22 March 1957 from the Rev. Carleton Barnwell to Rev. Byron Underwood, Rev. Young could not have received a degree from Virginia Theological Seminary, since that institution did not seek and was not granted the authority to issue degrees until 1910.  Return

2. After examining Young's Hymns and Music For The Young - Part First, it would appear that Dana might have been the printer, rather than the publisher. Hymns and Music For The Young - Part 1 was published by The Gen. Prot. Episc. S. S. Union and Church Book Society (New York). The printer, Dana, secured the copyright in 1860 in the same manner as he secured the copyright for Carols For The Christmas in 1859. Return

3. Bishop Young traveled extensively during his time as Bishop; in addition to parish visits, he frequently attended the meetings of the Diocesan Council in Tallahassee, and the the meetings of the General Convention and of the Foreign Missionary Committee in New York City. He also made two visits to Cuba.  Return

3a. Old City Cemetery was originally St. Joseph's Cemetery. The local Catholic Church bought what was a large empty field in 1858 for $10. Episcopal Bishop Young was buried in the Catholic cemetery — along with Confederate and Union soldiers, city fathers, and Florida pioneers.

In 2002, Bill Egan was visiting the Diocese cathedral office in Jacksonville. When he asked about the location of the gravesite of Bishop Young:

"... one staff member suggested walking around the outside of the cathedral to see if there was a monument or memorial. While doing this, a homeless man asked what I was looking for. I told him and he told me that Bishop Young was buried in the Old City Cemetery a few blocks away. That's how I found Bishop Young's final resting place."

Source: Message #6697, Sun., Feb 24, 2008, Christmas International Group,  Return

4a. Mr. Egan is a noted "Silent Night" historian who on Dec. 10, 2000, received a Gold Metal from the Austrian Government for his work on the history of "Stille Nacht." He authored an article titled Silent Night: The Song Heard 'Round The World.  It can be found at Jako Oliver's Silent Night Homepage, which also contains a large number of translations in numerous languages. Bill's article contains a good deal of fascinating detail concerning Silent Night. Also, take a look at the Silent Night Museum, a cyber-museum was created by Bill Egan to provide a world wide audience with the true story behind the composition of "Silent Night" and learn about its creators, Joseph Mohr and Franz Gruber. Bill is also the author of the article A Christmas Treasure. Return

4. Rev. Young's first wife was Miss Harriet Ogden of New York City. I do not know when or where they were married, although the dates 1855-1867 are likely, as they correspond to the years that Young lived in New York. She died on January 9, 1877, ten years after he became the second Bishop of Florida. In 1879, he married Mrs. Mary Stuart (Stockton) Finley, who passed away in 1914. Mary was the sister of John N. C. Stockton and Telfair Stockton of Jacksonville, men prominent in the history and development of Florida. Return

5. The other six carols in this publication include: "Earth Today Rejoices," "Good Christian Men Rejoice," "Here Is Joy For Every Age," "Earthly Friends Will Change And Falter," "Royal Day That Chasest Gloom," and "Good King Wenceslas." Return

6. At the time, Mr. Hollister was Superintendent of the Sunday-School of St. Paul's Church, New Haven, CN. Return

7. Rev. Byron Edward Underwood was a former traveling scholar in Denmark on the American-Scandinavian Foundation. He had done hymnological and musical research in the United States, Denmark, Sweden, Germany and France. He translated a large number of carols, 24 of which appeared in Swedish Christmas, by Tre Tryckare, Gothenburg, 1954.  Return

8. Founded in 1922, The Hymn Society of America changed its name in 1991 to The Hymn Society in the United States and Canada. Return

9. Due to copyright concerns, I have not reproduced Rev. Underwood's article here. Return


I had previously been under the mistaken impression that Bishop Young had been the author of the hymn "Wonderful Night." However, in Great Hymns of the Church, credit for the lyrics is given to Dr. Joh. Frederick Meyer (1772-1848); the translation was provided by the Rev. Milo Mahan, D. D.; the tune "Christmas Eve" was composed by Dr. Conrad Kocher.


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