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Observations placeholder

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

  King's College Cambridge 2005 #5 O Holy Night Adolphe Adam

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
and stop the wrath of his Father
the world quivers with hope
On this night that gives it a Saviour

People kneeling, wait for your deliverance
noel, Noel here is the Redeemer
noel Noel here is the Redeemer

our faith that the burning light
guide us all to the cradle of the child
as once a shining star
led the kings of the East
the King of Kings born in a humble manger


The source of the experience

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