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Dresden’s Frauenkirche restored to its former glory

External building work completed / Consecration on 30th Oct. 2005 / Chronology of the reconstruction

 

Since 22nd June 2004, the skyline of the city of Dresden has at last been complete again. On that day, around 50,000 onlookers watched as the copper cupola with its golden cross was mounted on top of Dresden’s Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) by what is probably the world’s biggest mobile crane. The official ceremony, which drew worldwide media attention, again demonstrated that the restoration of this magnificent edifice is an impressive symbol of international reconciliation following the second world war.

Built between 1726 and 1743 according to plans drawn up by the audacious master builder and architect George Bähr, the Frauenkirche is regarded as the most important Protestant church building in Germany. It was one of the great masterpieces of Baroque art and was one of the wonders of European architecture. Two days after the bombing of Dresden in February 1945, the once proud dome collapsed, having been burned out. It thus shared the fate of almost every building in the city centre.

For more than 45 years the ruins and the pile of rubble stood as a potent reminder of the destruction of Dresden. The square that had been dedicated to divine worship and to commemoration of the dead retained its power of attraction. The people of Dresden continued to carry the unmatched beauty of their Baroque Frauenkirche in their hearts. Immediately after the war, they planned to rebuild the church, but were prevented by economic and political constraints during the era of the GDR.

From citizens’ initiative to worldwide project

The events of autumn 1989 provided a new impulse. Engaged citizens set up an initiative to promote the rebuilding of the Frauenkirche. On 13th February 1990, the 45th anniversary of the destruction of the city, they addressed their “Call from Dresden” to the world. This appeal was the initial spark that developed into the most successful citizens’ initiative in Germany in recent times. The Dresden group rapidly grew into a worldwide movement.

The organisation founded by the citizens’ initiative under the leadership of Dresden musician Prof. Ludwig Güttler started out with 14 members at the beginning of 1990. In 1991 it became the Society to Promote the Reconstruction of the Frauenkirche and it now has over 5000 members throughout Germany and in more than 20 countries. Several associations were set up both in Germany and abroad to lend active support to the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche.

One of these was the “Dresden Trust” in Britain, among whose curators were the late Lord Menuhin, who died in 1999, and the Bishop of Coventry. Another was the “Friends of Dresden, Inc.” in the USA, whose honorary presidents include such personalities as David Rockefeller and Henry A. Kissinger. In France, the “Association Reconstruction de la Frauenkirche à Dresde” made its contribution. The client and future operator of the church is the “Stiftung Frauenkirche Dres-den”, a foundation established jointly by the Free State of Saxony, the City of Dresden and the Protestant Church in Saxony (Evangelisch-Lutherische Landeskirche Sachsens).

Rebuilding as an archaeological reconstruction project

The Frauenkirche is being rebuilt in its original historical form. This is possible thanks to the fact that complete and detailed documentation has been preserved. The ruins that had remained standing have been integrated into the reconstructed building. In addition, it was possible to re-use 44 per cent of the original stones. During the careful removal of the rubble, these were salvaged, identified and placed in storage. T

his procedure, which was made possible by the latest computer technology, was unprecedented. As part of the archaeological reconstruction work, the Baroque interior decor with its elegant galleries, the ceiling paintings in the dome, the great altar, fragments of which have survived, and the outer form of the famous organ made by Gottfried Silbermann, on which Johann Sebastian Bach played several times between 1736 and 1739, will all be restored before the church’s consecration on 30th October 2005.

Place of worship and cultural centre

The reconstructed Frauenkirche will be a place of divine worship, devotional meetings and concerts. It will be an oasis of tranquillity and meditation in the middle of a vibrant city and a place for ecumenical meetings. Attendance at the weekly services, devotionals and concerts in the crypt and the thousands of people who participate in the annual Christmas vespers in front of the building site already testify to the strong power of attraction that emanates from this build-ing. In future, the interior of the church, with its overwhelming beauty, will again be the setting not only for divine services but also for concerts of church music and other cultural events.

Frauenkirche

The outside of the Dresden Frauenkirche has been completed in June 2004. The consecration will be held on 31 October 2005.

Foto: Sylvio Dittrich

 

Chronology

1722 Master Carpenter George Bähr presents initial plans for a new building to replace the old Frauenkirche, which is in a serious state of disrepair.

1726 Approval of the design with four corner towers and a wooden dome. Foundation stone laid in August.

1733 After the death of Augustus the Strong, the Catholic Elector Augustus III donates 28,366 Talers for continuation of the building work on the Protestant place of worship. Bähr is permitted to build the dome in stone.

1738 Continuation of work on the church after Bähr’s death.

1743 Completion of the building work by Master Masons Gottfried Fehre and Johann Georg Schmidt

1760 The Frauenkirche survives bombardment by Prussian cannon. The attacker, Friedrich II of Prussia, comments, “The obstinate mule will just have to stay put.”

1924 Start of the first major restoration work on the Frauenkirche (up to 1930)

1938 Second period of restoration work (up to 1942). The main dome is fitted with a ring girder made of reinforced concrete. The documentation is later an important source for the reconstruction work.

1945 On 15th February, two days after the bombing of Dresden, the burned out dome collapses.

1946 The “Grand Rebuilding Plan for Dresden” envisages the reconstruction of the Frauenkirche

1962 After initial salvage work in 1948, the ruin is threatened with clearance, but lack of money prevents this.

1966 The city council decides to preserve the ruin as a monument. Church services held next to the ruins of the Frauenkirche gain greater political importance in 1989.

1990 On 12th February a citizens’ movement publishes the “Call from Dresden” and appeals to the public for support to rebuild the Frauenkirche

1991 On 18th March, the synod of the Protestant Church in Saxony votes with a clear majority in favour of rebuilding the Frauenkirche. Dresden city council grants its consent in 1992.

1993 Start of clearance work. In October parts of the altar are found in an unexpectedly good condition.

1994 On 27th May, Lord Mayor of Dresden Herbert Wagner grants building permission for the reconstruction work, which begins the same day. The building director is Eberhard Burger.

1995 The Dresdner Bank begins issuing its “Donation Certificates”

1996 Consecration of the crypt in August

1998 Completion of the 18.37 metre high control pillar inside the church

1999 The church is 24 metres high. Decision to consecrate the church in 2005, one year earlier than originally planned.

2000 The Duke of Kent hands over the tower cross donated by Britain’s “Dresden Trust”. The son of a British bomber pilot, Alan Smith, was involved in its production. The Queen also makes a donation towards the cross, which she presents to Dresden in an official ceremony.

2001 In June the interior dome is completed.

2002 On 13th May work begins on the exterior dome, the 40 metre high “Stone Bell”.

2003 After a dispute about the future organ for the Frauenkirche, the board of the Foundation decide on a modern organ “in the spirit of Gottfried Silbermann“. The commission is won by the Kern company from Strasbourg. In July the last stone is set in the dome, and in September the scaffolding is removed.

2004 The internal scaffolding is removed. On 13th April the last stone out of a total of about 360,000 is set at a height of 79 m. On 22nd July the setting of the cupola and cross on the top completes the external building work. At the end of the year the dome is to be opened as a viewing platform for tourists.

2005 Completion of the interior and the organ. On Sunday 30th October, the day before Reformation Day, the church is consecrated.

 

Frauenkirche

The Frauenkirche in Dresden in an old photograph before 1945

 

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