The Church of the Court

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If you drop two Catholic girls in Dresden, where are they going to go?

If you guessed the cathedral, you’re right.

My cousin Amy and I spent a few hours in Dresden, on our way from Małopolska to Bavaria, and we wandered around the old town for a bit. One of the most beautiful buildings we saw was right along the river, and it looked something like a church. Naturally, we had to poke around inside for a bit.

This church turned out to be the Hofkirche, or, literally, the Church of the Court. Nowadays, it’s called the Kathedrale Sanctissimae Trinitatis, or the Holy Trinity Cathedral.

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Back in the day, Dresden was a really rich town. It was the capital of the Saxony region, which was doing considerably well. Their ruler was an Elector, which meant that he had the right to vote for the Holy Roman Emperor – by the eighteenth century, that was largely an honorary status, but they kept the title, as well as the idea of international clout (this title was second only to King and Emperor). The Elector of Saxony, who also happened to hold the title of King of Poland, was Augustus III. Under his rule, there were a few disputes between Catholics and Protestants – Saxony is, after all, in Germany, a land traditionally Catholic, but with a history of having and encouraging ideas of Reformation.

The Protestants of Dresden were building themselves a grand church, and it was going to be the most beautiful church the city had ever seen. They called it the Frauenkirche, or the Church of Our Lady. Augustus III, himself a Catholic, saw this happening and, in an attitude that was partly “We can’t let the Protestants take a visible majority over the Catholics, otherwise bad things will happen” and partly “I want one,” commissioned a gorgeous baroque church to be built for the Catholics. Upon the completion of the church, he and his family attended mass there when they happened to be in town. Thus, the church came to be known as the Hofkirche.

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As is so horribly common in this part of Europe, the church was almost completely destroyed during the Allied bombing raids of World War II. The bombing of Dresden left more than one important church a pile of rubble, and, due to complications from these churches being located in former East Germany, it was only in recent years that the people have gotten the funding and the labor necessary to rebuild them: restoration of the Hofkirche began in 1979 and continued through the 1980s, while the restoration of the Frauenkirche didn’t even begin until 1990 (I use the term ‘restoration’ lightly – the Frauenkirche was little more than a pile of bricks when they started). Added support for the restoration work came in 1980, when the bishopric of Meissen moved its seat to Dresden, officially making the Hofkirche the Kathedrale in Dresden.

The money and labor involved in the restoration work paid off; the Kathedrale is just as beautiful on the inside as on the outside. Everything was done in white, with an interesting combination of straight lines and baroque flourishes. The main body of the church is an oval, leading up to the main altar, with side altars in the ambulatory and statues of the saints all the way around. The side altars are interesting additions to the church; some of them are traditional, while others are done in a very modern, abstract style. One of these altars, I thought to be a representation of the resurrection. The information plaque on the wall said it was a Pietà (a representation of Mary holding the dead body of Jesus). My cousin thought it was a pile of rocks. All in all, a very counterintuitive, but not obnoxious, addition to a baroque-style church.

The rebuilding of the Kathedrale and the Frauenkirche show, in my opinion, a tenacity among Dresdeners that should be respected. Fifty years after being twice broken – first, during the Allied bombing, then again under social and economic circumstances that kept them from rebuilding – the people came together, decided what was important to them, and did their best to restore it to its former glory.

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