Motherland of the Reformation

Motherland of the Reformation

The Procession of Princes

When, in 1089, Henry of Eilenburg of the House of Wettin became Margrave of Meissen, nobody could guess that his family would rule over Saxony for 829 years. A unique testimony to this success story is Procession of Princes, located at the rear of the Stables Courtyard of Dresden Castle. Originally completed as sgraffiti in 1876, it was transferred onto Meissen porcelain tiles in 1907 to make it weatherproof. Except for the last king, all the margraves, electors and kings from the House of Wettin are shown realistically on the largest porcelain image in the world. Included are also those whose names are inseparably connected with the Reformation, from Frederick the Wise to “Father” Augustus under whose rule Saxony was awarded the honorary title “Motherland of the Reformation”.

Rebuilt to last

Under Duke Maurice, who won the Elector title after the Battle of Mühlberg, Dresden Castle was expanded extensively in the Renaissance style. The new Protestant chapel was also built. It served as residence of the Saxon rulers until 1918 when the House of Wettin abdicated and Saxony became a republic. In February 1945, the castle was destroyed in the senseless air raid of Dresden. Threatened by total demolition under early Communist rule, restoration began in the 1970s and still continues today. Today it houses some of the most important museums of the world-famous Dresden State Art Collections, like the Green Vault treasury museum and the armory. The Large Castle Yard has regained the impressive sgraffito paintings which decorated the outer walls of the castle in the Renaissance times. The Small Castle Yard was covered with a modern roof and service as reception area and event location. The castle tower has a viewing platform and is one of the many places from where one can see Dresden from the top.

Monuments of Protestantism

For an insight into the times when Dresden became the capital of the Saxon Electorate, a visit to Dresden Fortress is recommended. It can be found under Brühl’s Terrace and preserves the remains of the fortifications erected by Elector Maurice and his brother and successor, Elector Augustus. In his role of Prior Provincial of the Augustine order, Martin Luther had visited the monastery of St Erasmus in Dresden in 1516, on whose site today stands the Jägerhof, a hunting lodge erected by Elector Augustus. Today, it houses the Museum of Saxon Folk Art. The largest church of Dresden is the Church of the Holy Cross. The boys’ choir, known as Dresdner Kreuzchor or Holy Cross Boys Choir is one of the most famous in the world. It will turn 800 years old in 2016 and performs regular duties in the church when it is in town. Its repertoire includes many works of Johann Sebastian Bach and Heinrich Schütz, who worked as musical director of the court in Dresden. The most famous Protestant church of Dresden is the Church of Our Lady or Frauenkirche which was rebuilt faithfully in the late 1990s and early 2000s. In front of it, a large statue of Martin Luther dominates the Neumarkt square which has also risen from the ashes.

Betrayal of Luther’s ideas

On 1 June 1697, Elector Frederick Augustus I “the Strong”, converted to Catholicism to become King of Poland. With his conversion, Saxony lost its leading role among the Protestant Estates. Although Augustus officially assured his subjects that his actions would have no consequences for them, the Wettin dynasty in this way estranged itself from its people. A visible indication of this is the ambivalent representation of Augustus the Strong on Dresden’s Procession of Princes - his horse is trampling the Luther Rose with its hoof. Catholic services were held under Augustus but only in the re-designed court chapel. It was not until 1739–51 that his son built the Catholic Court Church, in which the Catholic members of the Wettin family were also buried. Conspicuous in the surprisingly simple interior are the great Silbermann organ, the ornate pulpit and the modern Pietà, made of Meissen porcelain. The procession route is unusual. Frederick Augustus II did not want to provoke the people with Catholic rites in public. The irony of the story is that until the end of World War I the Catholic ruler from the House of Wettin was the nominal head of the Evangelical-Lutheran Church of Saxony and “guardian of Protestantism”.