German "Lutheran Vatican" rebuilt
Dresden’s famed “Frauenkirche” collapsed during WW II
German Christians are not known, these days, for filling their churches on Sunday mornings. That’s especially the case in formerly Communist, and once-heavily-Lutheran, East Germany. But nearly 30,000 showed up for a special ceremony in Dresden on June 22, celebrating the reconstruction of what some in the Saxon city used to call the “Lutheran Vatican,” the ornate, dome-crowned Frauenkirche (Church of Our Lady).
The placement of a new cross and cupola has special significance for some North American Lutherans. Many of the pioneers who emigrated to North America in the 19th century, and then organized the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS), came from the city of Dresden and its environs.
The baroque Frauen-kirche, a proud Lutheran landmark and Germany’s largest Protestant church, was originally built in the heart of Dresden in 1743. It miraculously survived two days and nights of concentrated Allied bombing as WW II drew to a close. But the building collapsed in the 1,000 degree Celsius heat generated by some 650,000 incendiary bombs dropped on the city.
Some historians have suggested that the brutal attack on Dresden was intended to “teach a lesson” to those who had given strong support to the program of Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich. In addition to leveling hundreds of buildings, the fire-storm killed an estimated 135,000 residents.
As the hellish temperatures climbed, the Frauenkirche’s eight interior sandstone pillars, which supported the colossal dome, exploded. The outer walls shattered and nearly 6,000 tons of stone plunged to earth, penetrating the massive floor as it fell. The building vanished from Dresden’s skyline.
The ruins of the Frauenkirche were a remin-der of the horrors of that war, said Allan Russell of London’s Dresden Trust. “[The bombing of Dresden] was an act of war designed to bring the war to an end, but it was a brutal act,” he told Deutsche Welle, Germa-ny’s national radio service.
The church remained a ruin during the Communist occupation of East Germany, largely because the eastern bloc nation lacked the financial resources to repair many of its damaged structures. Saxony, and Dresden, re-joined a reunited Germany shortly after the Berlin Wall was taken down in 1989.
That same year, a handful of residents in Dresden formulated plans to rebuild the Frauenkirche. One early obstacle was a lack of funding, so in 1991, the residents formed a society in support of rebuilding the cathedral and collected donations from around the world.
There were spirited discussions about how to rebuild the church. Some recommended altering the building’s original appearance. In the end, however, it was decided to restore the Frauenkirche as it had been originally designed.
Reconstruction finally be-gan in January 1993. Now nearly completed, the great church is expected to be-come a symbol of hope and peace, said Allan Russell.
“We need to make a gesture back, to express our sorrow about the deaths and destruction and our determination to build things with our German friends for the future,” he said.
Rebuilding the Frauen-kirche cost 130 million Euros (157 million U.S. dollars), two-thirds of which was privately donated. Nearly 8,000 original stones, carefully salvaged, numbered and stored until reconstruction could begin, were set back in their places, along with eight million new ones.
A computer imaging program, which could move the stones three-dimensionally around the screen in various configurations, was used to help architects find where the original stones sat and how they fit together.
Part of the Frauenkirche’s dome and the interior of the cathedral still need to be completed. Work is likely to be finished in 2006, in time for the city’s 800th anniversary.