A Thanksgiving Story: The Silent Night Memorial Chapel

The late Wally Bronner was holding on to that snippet of land just south of Bronner’s CHRISTmas Wonderland for something special, very special. People offered to purchase that corner of Bronner’s property where M-83 (Gera Road) met Weiss Street. “It would be perfect for a gas station or convenience store,” they said. But Wally had something else in mind. Something he could build in thanks to God for His blessings on the World’s Largest Christmas Store.

Wally and Irene Bronner in front of the original Silent Night Memorial Chapel in Oberndorf, Austria

In 1976 Wally visited the Oberndorf (Salzburg, Austria) Silent Night Memorial Chapel while on a buying trip in Europe. He found the chapel and its story inspiring.

It had been built on the site of the St. Nicholas Church where “Silent Night,” the world’s most beloved and well-known Christmas hymn, was first sung in 1818. That Christmas the church organ was broken so Pastor Joseph Mohr wrote the verses and teacher Franz Gruber composed the music for guitar accompaniment in time for the Christmas Eve service. The song traveled and grew in popularity. The St. Nicholas Church, damaged by the Salzach River, was rebuilt on higher ground. Constructed on a landscaped mound at the original church altar site to commemorate the carol, the Oberndorf Silent Night Memorial Chapel was completed in 1937.

Telling the story of “Silent Night” at Bronner’s replica chapel

“Silent Night” was a favorite carol of Wally’s. He found the music peaceful and delighted in the lyrics that proclaimed the Biblical Christmas message of the birth of Christ the Savior.

In 1989 Wally presented a formal request to duplicate the chapel in Frankenmuth … on that little snippet of land just south of Bronner’s store. In November of that same year, the Oberndorf City Council and Visitors Bureau granted written permission. Bronner’s replica of the original chapel was completed and dedicated in November 1992 … just in time for Thanksgiving. It is open daily during store hours for visitation and meditation. Each Christmas Eve day from 3 p.m. to 3:15 p.m. a member of the Bronner family leads the  public in singing “Silent Night” at the chapel to guitar accompaniment.

 Building Bronner’s chapel

Wally and Irene sharing a book with Oberndorf officials about both the original and replica chapels
Bronner’s Silent Night Memorial Chapel

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