Motherland of the Reformation

Motherland of the Reformation

Risen from the rubble

The statue of Martin Luther lay broken in the dust. The ruins of the Church of Our Lady stood behind it on the Neumarkt square after its famous dome, the “Stone Bell”, had collapsed as a result of the excessive heat, two days after the bombing of Dresden. It therefore seems to be a miracle that the Baroque masterpiece was reconsecrated on 30 October 2005, after twelve years of faithful reconstruction and with the help of donations from all over the world. During the GDR period, the people of Dresden had made the ruined church into a memorial to peace and thereby saved it from demolition. Today the Church of Our Lady again dominates the famous skyline of Dresden. When it was originally built, it was not only a daring design but also represented the perfection of church construction according to Luther’s ideals. The congregation gathers around the Word, with the altar in the background. Since its reopening, the Church of Our Lady has become a vibrant meeting place, and Dresden’s Neumarkt has been resurrected to its former glory.

Humble beginnings

After converting to Catholicism, Elector Augustus the Strong donated large funds for the construction of a replacement for the dilapidated Church of Our Lady. The citizens of Dresden asked the architect George Bähr to build a new Protestant church. The builder was faced with the enormous challenge of creating room for 5,000 people in a very limited space and had to fight hard for his idea of a dome made from stone. His abilities where questioned because he had previously built only much smaller churches, albeit in a similar fashion. This legacy can be found in churches in like those in Dresden-Loschwitz, Hohnstein, Schmiedeberg, Forchheim. He also rebuilt Seusslitz Castle in Diesbar-Seusslitz and created residential buildings in Dresden like the recently rebuilt British Hotel. In the town of Lauenstein in the Ore Mountains, where Bähr was educated, his is commemorated in the museum of Lauenstein Castle.

Rock solid

What does the Church of Our Lady have in common with the Brandenburg Gate and many other famous buildings in Germany? It is the sandstone that comes from a range of mountains which were once the bottom of a sea. Saxon Switzerland National Park is one of the most distinctive landscapes in Europe, with its bizarre rock formations and majestic flat-topped mounts framing the Elbe Valley. One of the mounts, Königstein, near the town of the same name, is crowned by Europe’s highest fortress. Since it takes up the entire plateau, a walk along the fortress walls offers a panoramic view of the entire surroundings. The ships of the Saxon Steamship Company appear small and sweet down below on the Elbe, and from these ships the landscape appears in a completely different perspective. One of Germany’s most popular tourist attractions is the Bastei or “bastion”. As early as 1826 an inn was built there, to be followed in 1851 by the famous stone bridge that is still standing. Today’s panoramic restaurant offers a fantastic view over the Elbe Valley. And visitors wanting more can stay overnight in the adjoining hotel.

Close relatives

The Church of Our Lady is not only the pinnacle of Protestant church architecture, but also the role model for numerous churches that were built afterwards. The beautiful castle chapel of Weesenstein was designed by Johann George Schmidt, student and successor of George Bähr. Schmidt was also involved in the construction of St Mary’s church in Grossenhain, which is different in style, but similar in spirit. The famous octagonal church of Seiffen, the “toy capital” of Germany, was built from 1776 to 1779 as a copy of George Bähr’s masterpiece, and is replicated in many of the groups of figures created by woodcarving artists from the Ore Mountains. A more recent building is the church of Moritzburg. To fit in with the famous hunting palace of Augustus the Strong, it was built in neo-baroque splendor 100 years ago.