The Dresden Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady) is considered an outstanding example of Protestant sacred architecture, featuring one of the largest domes in Europe. Built in the 18th century, the church was destroyed in the bombing of Dresden during World War II. The remaining ruins were left for 50 years as a war memorial, following decisions of local East German leaders. The church was rebuilt after the reunification of Germany, starting in 1994.
A church dedicated to Our Lady was first built in the 11th century in a romanesque style, outside the city walls and surrounded by a grave yard. The Frauenkirche was the seat of an archpriest in the Meißen Diocese until the Reformation, when it became a Protestant church. This first Frauenkirche was torn down in 1727 and replaced by a new, larger church with a greater capacity. The Frauenkirche was re-built as a Lutheran parish church by the citizenry. Even though Saxony's Prince-elector, Frederick August I, reconverted to Roman Catholicism to become King of Poland, he supported the construction which gave an impressive cupola to the Dresden townscape.
The original Baroque church was built between 1726 and 1743, and was designed by Dresden's city architect, George Bähr, who did not live to see the completion of his greatest work. Bähr's distinctive design for the church captured the new spirit of the Protestant liturgy by placing the altar, pulpit, and baptismal font directly centre in view of the entire congregation.
The church's most distinctive feature was its unconventional 96 m-high dome. Comparable to Michelangelo's dome for St. Peter's Basilica in Rome, the Frauenkirche's 12,000-ton sandstone dome stood high resting on eight slender supports. Despite initial doubts, the dome proved to be extremely stable. Witnesses in 1760 said that the dome had been hit by more than 100 cannonballs fired by the Prussian army led by Friedrich II during the Seven Years' War.
In 1849, the church was at the heart of the revolutionary disturbances known as the May Uprising. It was surrounded by barricades, and fighting lasted for days before those rebels who had not already fled were rounded up in the church and arrested.
For more than 200 years, the bell-shaped dome stood over the skyline of old Dresden, dominating the city.
On 13 February 1945, Anglo-American allied forces began the bombing of Dresden. The church withstood two days and nights of the attacks and the eight interior sandstone pillars supporting the large dome held up long enough for the evacuation of 300 people who had sought shelter in the church crypt, before succumbing to the heat generated by some 650,000 incendiary bombs that were dropped on the city. The temperature surrounding and inside the church eventually reached 1,000 °C. The dome finally collapsed on 15 February. The pillars glowed bright red and exploded; the outer walls shattered and nearly 6,000 tons of stone plunged to earth, penetrating the massive floor as it fell.
The altar, a relief depiction of Jesus’ agony in the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives by Johann Christian Feige, was only partially damaged during the bombing raid and fire that destroyed the church. The altar and the structure behind it, the chancel, were among the remnants left standing. Features of most of the figures were lopped off by falling debris and the fragments lay under the rubble.
Using original plans from builder Georg Bähr in the 1720s, reconstruction finally began in January 1993. The foundation stone was laid in 1994. The reconstruction of its exterior was completed in 2004, and the interior in 2005. The church was reconsecrated on 30 October 2005 with festive services lasting through the Protestant observance of Reformation Day on 31 October. The surrounding Neumarkt square with its many valuable baroque buildings was also reconstructed in 2004.References:
From 1239, Raynaud, the Bishop of Quimper, decided on the building of a new chancel destined to replace that of the Romanesque era. He therefore started, in the far west, the construction of a great Gothic cathedral which would inspire cathedral reconstructions in the Ile de France and would in turn become a place of experimentation from where would later appear ideas adopted by the whole of lower Brittany. The date of 1239 marks the Bishop’s decision and does not imply an immediate start to construction. Observation of the pillar profiles, their bases, the canopies, the fitting of the ribbed vaults of the ambulatory or the alignment of the bays leads us to believe, however, that the construction was spread out over time.
The four circular pillars mark the start of the building site, but the four following adopt a lozenge-shaped layout which could indicate a change of project manager. The clumsiness of the vaulted archways of the north ambulatory, the start of the ribbed vaults at the height of the south ambulatory or the choice of the vaults descending in spoke-form from the semi-circle which allows the connection of the axis chapel to the choir – despite the manifest problems of alignment – conveys the hesitancy and diverse influences in the first phase of works which spread out until the start of the 14th century.
At the same time as this facade was built (to which were added the north and south gates) the building of the nave started in the east and would finish by 1460. The nave is made up of six bays with one at the level of the facade towers and flanked by double aisles – one wide and one narrow (split into side chapels) – in an extension of the choir arrangements.
The choir presents four right-hand bays with ambulatory and side chapels. It is extended towards the east of 3-sided chevet which opens onto a semi-circle composed of five chapels and an apsidal chapel of two bays and a flat chevet consecrated to Our Lady.
The three-level elevation with arches, triforium and galleries seems more uniform and expresses anglo-Norman influence in the thickness of the walls (Norman passageway at the gallery level) or the decorative style (heavy mouldings, decorative frieze under the triforium). This building site would have to have been overseen in one shot. Undoubtedly interrupted by the war of Succession (1341-1364) it draws to a close with the building of the lierne vaults (1410) and the fitting of stained-glass windows. Bishop Bertrand de Rosmadec and Duke Jean V, whose coat of arms would decorate these vaults, finished the chancel before starting on the building of the facade and the nave.
Isolated from its environment in the 19th century, the cathedral was – on the contrary – originally very linked to its surroundings. Its site and the orientation of the facade determined traffic flow in the town. Its positioning close to the south walls resulted in particuliarities such as the transfer of the side gates on to the north and south facades of the towers: the southern portal of Saint Catherine served the bishop’s gate and the hospital located on the left bank (the current Préfecture) and the north gate was the baptismal porch – a true parish porch with its benches and alcoves for the Apostles’ statues turned towards the town, completed by an ossuary (1514).
The west porch finds its natural place between the two towers. The entire aesthetic of these three gates springs from the Flamboyant era: trefoil, curly kale, finials, large gables which cut into the mouldings and balustrades. Pinnacles and recesses embellish the buttresses whilst an entire bestiary appears: monsters, dogs, mysterious figures, gargoyles, and with them a whole imaginary world promoting a religious and political programme. Even though most of the saints statues have disappeared an armorial survives which makes the doors of the cathedral one of the most beautiful heraldic pages imaginable: ducal ermine, the Montfort lion, Duchess Jeanne of France’s coat of arms side by side with the arms of the Cornouaille barons with their helmets and crests. One can imagine the impact of this sculpted decor with the colour and gilding which originally completed it.
At the start of the 16th century the construction of the spires was being prepared when building was interrupted, undoubtedly for financial reasons. Small conical roofs were therefore placed on top of the towers. The following centuries were essentially devoted to putting furnishings in place (funeral monuments, altars, statues, organs, pulpit). Note the fire which destroyed the spire of the transept cross in 1620 as well as the ransacking of the cathedral in 1793 when nearly all the furnishings disappeared in a « bonfire of the saints ».
The 19th century would therefore inherit an almost finished but mutilated building and would devote itself to its renovation according to the tastes and theories of the day.