A 1.000-year history
The Frauenkirche Dresden can look back on a 1000-year history. Already its predecessor churches were dedicated to the Mother of God and called Frauenkirche. In the 18th century, the famous dome structure by George Bähr was built and dominated Dresden’s cityscape for 200 years. The church was destroyed shortly before the end of World War II. Its ruin remained as amemorial at the heart of the city.
The beginnings as a missionary church
The first Frauenkirche was built in the 11th century as a missionary church to convert the surrounding Sorbian villages to Christianity. With the emergence of the City of Dresden in the last third of the 12th century, the Frauenkirche became the parish church for the city, i.e. baptisms, marriages and funerals were celebrated in the church. The church had to grow with the growing congregation and was thus repeatedly rebuilt.
A church for services and burials
A Gothic hall church was first built in the 13th century, which was then rebuilt in a late Gothic style at the end of the 15th century. During the Reformation it served as a burial church for twenty years from 1539 onwards before church services were once again held within its walls. Since the church found itself within the city of Dresden following the relocation of the fortifications in the late 16th century, Augustus the Strong urged that the churchyard be dissolved for town planning and hygienic reasons. This was carried out gradually as of 1714 with the loss of many graves.
George Bähr's baroque church
After the Gothic church had to be temporarily closed at the beginning of the 18th century on account of it being in a state of disrepair, the Council of the City of Dresden decided to erect a completely new building in 1722. They commissioned the city master carpenter George Bähr to build the church. He planned a masterpiece whose unmistakable dome was to become a landmark of the city of Dresden.
A masterpiece entirely out of stone
The foundation stone was laid for the new Frauenkirche on August 26, 1726 after four years of planning. The commissioned architect George Bähr had previously submitted several drafts and had had to carry our corrections on account of opposing opinions. It was finally decided to erect a central building with a dome on a square base. As a parish church it was the responsibility of the surrounding parishes to finance the building work, which meant that the work was always in financial straits. The church was consecrated in 1734 whilst still under construction – without an organ and with only a provisional altar. The stone dome was completed in the following years up to 1738. In 1743 the building was finally completed with the erection of a stone lantern. Bähr's goal that the Frauenkirche be ‘like a single stone from the ground to its highest point’ had been achieved.
The form of the stone, bell-shaped dome of the Frauenkirche is unique and is the largest building of its kind north of the Alps. However, it was the subject of repeated discussions both during and after its completion. The original plans submitted for ratification by George Bähr in 1722 initially showed a copper-plated wooden dome, but this variant proved too expensive. Bähr thus suggested building the dome partly or completely of stone. The high load and questionable resistance to weathering of such a dome were, however, regarded as problematic. Expert opinions were commissioned and George Bähr questioned several times before a contract was concluded on the construction in stone in 1733. The dome was finished in 1736, but cracks soon appeared in the inner piers and connecting arches. The City Council called for new expert opinions on its stability. These arrived at contradictory results: from a commendation of Bähr' work through to a call for the complete demolition of the dome. In the end, the Council decided to leave the dome as it was and erect a lantern that was lighter than the one originally planned by Bähr. Unfortunately, Bähr did not live to see its completion; he died in 1738.
Destruction and memorial
The destruction at the end of WWII
On the morning of February 15, 1945 – two days after the devastating bombing raid on Dresden – the burnt out Frauenkirche finally collapsed. Although it had apparently survived the direct attack and fire storm, unlike the majority of buildings in the city centre, the extreme heat that had been generated finally took its toll. In the early hours of February 14, when the fire reached the church, not only were the wooden galleries and pews consumed by the blaze, more and more sandstone exploded from the piers until they could no longer bear the immense weight of the dome – 12,000 tons.
Memorial und symbol of the peace movement
The ruins were a reminder of Dresden's destruction and the horrors of war for four decades. It certainly couldn't be taken for granted that the pile of rubble be left in the heart of the city. For town planners it was more of a hindrance. It is only thanks to the doggedness of the Dresden Institute for the Preservation of Monuments and the Saxon State Custodian Prof. Hans Nadler in particular that the ruins were not removed. On the contrary, they were in fact secured: the altar area was enclosed by walls and roses planted on the pile of rubble.
At beginning of the 1960's, the idea caught on of preserving the ruin as a memorial against war and destruction. The City of Dresden Council finally resolved to officially declare the ruins of the church as a memorial and erected a commemorative plaque.
Since February 13, 1982, when young people first gathered in front of the ruins with candles, it has become a symbol for the peace movement in Eastern Germany and a place for non-violent protest. To this day, numerous people gather every February 13 at the Frauenkirche with candles to commemorate the dead and as a call for peace.
Reconstruction in the light of reconciliation
A unique rebuilding project
Often guests of Dresden can be found gazing at the combination of light and dark stones in the fassade of the Frauenkirche. Even some Dresdeners only then are reminded again that this massive baroque-style church arose out of a huge heap of rubble between 1994 and 2005. True to the original and funded by donations from all over Germany and even foreign countries this church was resurrected. As much of the old material as possible was used and - with burning ambition - was put back to its original position whichm of course, had first to be traced.
To find out more about the reconstruction ... CLICK HERE.
The festive consecration marks both an end and a new beginning
"Peace be with you" was the motto for the consecration of the reconstructed Dresdner Frauenkirche that was celebrated on Oktober 30th 2005. The church was filled with representatives from the world of religion, politics, economics, science and culture. Moreover, members of the sponsorship groups and representatives of the many private sponsors were also present. What is more, Neumarkt Square, bathed in sunlight, overflowed with in excess of 60,000 people, who had gathered to join in the consecration service on site. Large screens had been set up, enabling them to follow the events unfolding inside the church. Millions of people watching on television were also witnesses of this historic moment.
After the church service was over, the people were treated to numerous events held in and around the Frauenkirche in celebration of a festival of joy that was part of the so-called "Festival of the First Three Days". In order to give due respect to this historic occasion, it was decided to proclaim a period of celebration that was planned to last until Easter 2006 and communicate to visitors the joyous message of the newly reconstructed Frauenkirche by way of the numerous events organised in connection with it.