The Frauenkirche is regarded as the symbol of protestant church construction. The evangelical concept of faith and church service has been translated here into architectural form. The brave idea of a centralised church room integrated into an octagonal outline underneath a tremendous stone dome goes back to Geore Bähr, the first architect of its kind, who translated Luther's convictions into stone.
Shape of the building
The Frauenkirche is a sandstone church erected on a comparatively small base area. The master builder George Bähr opted for a centralised building with an octagonal outline, i.e. the lower part of the church has the form of an octagon. The structure is topped by four corner towers and crowned by a circular dome with a stone lantern.
Seven doors lead into the main church; three of which (B, D and F) into the nave and four (A, C, E and G) via staircases in the four towers up to the galleries. George Bähr decided that none of these doors should be a special main entrance as all visitors should feel equally welcome no matter where they came from.
The present structure of the Frauenkirche is so impressive because its generally light façade is set off by a scattering of the original, darker-coloured stones across many parts of its surface. The Frauenkirche will thus continue to bear witness to its own history for a long time to come. Old and new stones have been joined to give a clear, meaningful indication that the past is always part of the future and that wounds can heal.
Cupola & Lantern
The Frauenkirche is crowned by a circular dome with a stone lantern. This dome is distinctive on many counts. Built totally of sandstone, it weighs in at more than 12,000 t. It is said to be the largest stone dome north of the Alps thanks to its height of 24 m and diameter of 26 m. The dome's shape is also unique with the curved base giving it a bell-like look, which is why the Frauenkirche was also nicknamed the ‘Stone Bell’.
On top of the dome you find the so-called "lantern" to which all visitors climb up to who want to enjoy the spectacular views from the viewing platform. Because of the open structure they can look into all four cardinal directions.
Even further up is the lantern cover on top of which the new tower cross found its place. Donated in the spirit of reconciliation by the British people calls this replica of the old tower cross still displayed in the nave for peace.
Choir area with pulpit, baptismal font and altar
George Bähr had arranged the pulpit – the typically elevated place for the sermon – centrally in the choir screen of the Frauenkirche from where it projects into the nave like a boat's bow. All worshippers were thus able to focus on the place where the gospel was preached. Due to acoustic problems, however, a second pulpit was erected on the northern pier of the chancel as early as 1738. This second pulpit was not reconstructed because it did not feature in George Bähr's original design while sound problems in modern churches can be remedied by using a microphone system.
It is not ultimately sure what kind of baptismal font was used in the original Frauenkirche. What is sure, however, is that a baptismal font which was commissioned at the end of the 19th century was totally destroyed when the church collapsed. During the rebuilding process (which was supposed to be based on George Bähr’s original design and structural concepts) it was decided to forgo the reconstruction of the font, which, after all, was a later addition. Instead, the aim was to seek a baptismal font that originated from Bähr’s time but was not in current use. An appropriate object was finally found in Bergbaumuseum Freiberg (Freiberg Mining Museum), where the baptismal font of the old Freiberg Nikolaikirche was on display. This had been built by the sculptor Johann Gottfried Stecher and consecrated in 1754. This somewhat understated font, which apart from the ornately designed lid features no decorative figures, has now been embellishing the Frauenkirche chancel since 2005.
The baroque altar is a masterpiece built by the sculptor Johann Christian Feige. It depicts a biblical scene: Christ is praying alone in the Garden of Gethsemane while his disciples are asleep and soldiers are already approaching from the town gate to arrest him. Starting from this moving scene, a whole sermon in stone then unfolds across the altar centred around the message of the mercifulness of God. The altar is highly impressive not only because of its rich decoration with ornaments and figures, but also thanks to its artistic and spiritual depth. As almost two thousand fragments of the altar were rescued during clearance of the rubble, reconstruction was a viable possibility. Around 80% of the present altar is thus made of original material.
The inner dome arches centrally above the nave to give this part of the church an artistic ceiling-type feature. The figures in Bähr's church were painted by the Italian theatre painter Johann Baptist Grone. The four evangelists, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, and allegories of the Christian virtues of belief, love, hope and mercy with their associated symbols are depicted in the vivid style typical of baroque painting.
The Frauenkirche galleries make a key contribution to the unique sense of space the church conveys. Its round form, enclosing the nave on three sides, gives each and every visitor a feeling of being welcome and belonging.
Master builder George Bähr designed the church with five gallery levels that provide room for approx. two thirds of the visitors. He divided the first of these galleries into individual prayer rooms with windows at its front end. Wealthy Dresden citizens were able to hire these rooms and attend the services in the privacy of these rooms. In the reconstructed church, this gallery is a faithful copy of the original in visual terms, but the decision was made to do without a subdivision into individual rooms in view of the use made of the church today.
The organ in Bähr’s Frauenkirche was installed in 1736 and deemed one of the greatest works of Gottfried Silbermann. Johann Sebastian Bach gave a concert on it shortly after its installation. However, by 1769 the organ was retuned for the first time. A further retuning was carried out in 1819, because the organ, which was developed for the sound of baroque chamber music, stood ‘a half a tone too deep in relation to the present instrumental ambience’. Also in the period that followed, the organ was expanded several times and restructured so that its original sound form has not been handed down. The organ together with the organ case was completely destroyed in 1945.
The new organ was built in 2005 by Kern, an organ-builder from Strasbourg. It impressively combines the organ building principles of the brothers Gottfried and Andreas Silbermann. The instrument is tonally enriched by the typical sounds of a French romantic organ work, so that the new organ possesses an impressive versatility. As a result, the organ works of Johann Sebastian Bach can be played just as authentically as the symphonic organ works of César Franck. The extremely adaptable instrument possesses 69 sounding stops which are distributed over four keyboards and one pedal. Of the 4,876 pipes, of which only a small part is visible, the smallest measures less the one centimetre and the biggest measures over five meters.
Lower church and annex
The crypt of the Frauenkirche served as a burial place in the 18th century. The persons buried here included the master builder who constructed the Frauenkirche, George Bähr. During the destruction of the church, however, only one single burial chamber remained unscathed. The location of the coffins in the walled graves was largely preserved. Yet, despite the fact that the vast majority of the Lower Church had to be revaulted in the course of the reconstruction work, the fate of destruction has in all remained unmistakable.
Between 1996 and 2005, the Lower Church served as a church room. It was here that services, devotions and ecumenical evensong took place. Visitors were also able to attend concerts and take part in guided tours here during the period of the Frauenkirche’s reconstruction. Particularly striking was and is the monumental stone altar that was crafted by the Indian-born Jewish sculptor Anish Kapoor out of black Irish Iimestone.
The tradition of evensong and the artistic usage of the Lower Church live on to this very day. Apart from these exceptions, however, the Lower Church has become a place of silence, contemplation, personal devotion and prayer. To this end, the artistic design of the five chapels was created by the Berlin-based sculptor Michael Schoenholtz with destruction and renaissance in their manifold forms its central theme.
Basement level annex
In order to adjust the Frauenkirche to modern usage requirements it was neecessary to provide new accomodation facilities for technical installations and equipment such as a transformer station, an emergency power unit and a heating and ventilation system. Soon it became clear that a new basement level annex would be best. It surrounds the Lower Church section from South/West to North/West in a U-shape. Apart from the mentioned facilities it also accommodates toilets and a cloak room.
This new annex also provides space for a small exhibition area where visitors can learn about the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche and includes a room where the film "Fascinating Frauenkirche" can be shown.