Placide Cappeau - O Holy Night
Type of Spiritual Experience
The following has been derived from “ The Christmas Carol Reader by By William E Studwell, Frank Hoffmann
Placide Cappeau (1808-1877) was a resident of the small community of Roquemaure, a few miles north of the city of Avignon, and was by profession a commissaire of wines and by inclination an occasional writer of verse in both French and the regional dialect Langue d'oc. Cappeau was a friend of a Parisian couple named Laurey. The Laureys had temporarily relocated to southern France so that Monsieur Laurey could follow his civil engineering career by building a bridge across the Rhone river near Roquemaure.
Just before Cappeau left for Paris on a business trip, the parish priest asked the part time poet to write a Christmas poem and to take it to the famous Parisian composer Adolphe Adam for a musical setting. Adam was an acquaintance of Madame Laurey who was a singer.
Reportedly on December 3rd 1847, about halfway on the long coach ride to Paris, Cappeau received the inspiration for the poem 'Minuit Chretiens'. As poems go it isn't that special, but what happened next is.
Cappeau was a total obscurity when he contacted Adam in Paris. The composer in contrast, was at the peak of his fame at that time. The little melody he was to create for Madame Laurey's friend was to become the clear occupant of the second place in Adam's reputation. After Cappeau delivered his poem to Adam, it took him only a few days to complete the carol. The premiere performance of the song was, as intended, at the midnight mass in the church of Roquemaure on Christmas 1847.
The song was translated into English by the American music critic and journalist John Sullivan Dwight.
What however one needs to realise is that neither Cappeau or Adam were Christians. Cappeau was described as a 'free thinker', something of a 'social radical' for his day and [deep breath here] a socialist! All this sounds extraordinarily revolutionary, but in fact the poor man was closer to a humanist believing in the abolition of slavery and vehemently opposed to injustice and inequality or any kinds of oppression - so the poem is indeed extremely strange in this context.
He became somewhat eccentric in his later years and asked that he buried upright – a belief probably tying in with his literal interpretation of an understanding that the Higher spirit leaves from the top of your head on death.
A description of the experience
Minuit chretiens, c'est l'heure solenelle
ou l'Homme Dieu descendit jusqu'a nous
pour effacer la tache originelle
et de son Pere arreter le courroux
le monde entier tressaille d'esperance
en cette nuit qui lui donne un sauveur
People a genoux, attends ta deliverance
noel, Noel voici le Redempteur
noel Noel voici le redempteur
de notre foi que la lumiere ardente
nous guide tous au berceau de l'enfant
comme autrefois une etoile brillante
y conduisait les chefs de l'orient
le roi des rois nait dans une humble creche
Midnight Christians, it is the solemn hour
when God as man descended amongst us
to erase the stain of original sin