Dresden, the capital of the Kingdom of Saxony and the residence of the royal family, is situated on both sides of the Elbe, which is here crossed by five bridges, and is surrounded by pleasing heights. Including the suburbs which now form a part of it, the city contained (December 1, 1905) 516,996 inhabitants, of whom 462,108 were Evangelical Lutherans, 2885 Evangelical Reformed, 44,079 Catholics, 3514 Jews, etc. Dresden is the residence of the vicar Apostolic for Saxony, and is the seat of the Catholic ecclesiastical consistory and of the vicarial court. In 1907 there were in Dresden 24 ecclesiastics, including the vicar Apostolic, who is a titular bishop, 7 rectors, 4 court preachers, and 1 military chaplain. Dresden has 6 Catholic parish churches, of which 2 are only chapels, 1 garrison church, which is also used for Protestant worship, the church attached to St. Joseph‘s Institute, built in 1746, and 6 chapels. The most important of these edifices is the court church, one of the finest Rococo structures of Germany. It was built by the Italian master-builder, Gaetano Chiaveri, in the years 1739-51, for Frederick Augustus II (1733-63). The church has a finely painted ceiling, a high altar with altar-painting by Raphael Mengs, and valuable silver ornamentation; since 1823 the members of the royal family have been buried in the crypt. Among the other churches should be mentioned the parish church of Dresden-Neustadt, built, 1852-53, in Romanesque style and containing finely painted windows, and the chapel in the royal palace.
The Catholic schools of Dresden consist of a progymnasium with 4 ecclesiastical teachers and about 70 scholars, 1 middle-class school with nearly 300 scholars, and 5 district schools with 3300 pupils. For girls there are also St. Joseph‘s Institute, founded in 1746 by Maria Josepha, wife of King Augustus III, to give poor Catholic girls food, clothing, and instruction, and the institution for noble young ladies, founded in 1761 by Freiherr von Burkersroda, in which Catholic young women of noble birth receive a home and an education. As houses of male orders are forbidden throughout Saxony, Dresden has only convents of female congregations; these are: 2 houses of Grey Sisters who have charge of a hospital, St. Joseph‘s Institute, a home for servants, 2 kitchens for the poor, etc.; 1 convent of the Sisters of St. Charles Borromeo who conduct the Amalia home and a boarding home for working-women. Among the Catholic societies of Dresden should be mentioned: the Catholic Press Association, the Teachers’ Association, 2 working-men’s societies, the People’s Association (Volksverein) of Catholic Germany, the journeymen’s society (Gesellenverein) which carries on a boarding home, the Merchants’ Association, 3 associations for youths, 2 societies of St. Charles Borromeo, the Catholic Casino, and 20 religious societies and brotherhoods. The only Catholic daily newspaper for Dresden and Saxony is the “Sächsische Volkszeitung”.
Dresden was originally a village of the Sorbs, who in the sixth century settled on both sides of the Elbe. In the tenth century the territory was conquered by the Cermans, and the Diocese of Meissen (see Meissen) was erected in 968 for the conversion of the pagan Sorbs. The first church of Dresden, the church of Our Lady, was built about 1080. Towards the end of the twelfth century the Germans made a settlement, not far from the Sorbs, which is first mentioned in a deed of 1206 and is spoken of as a city as early as 1216. This new settlement, which gradually absorbed the other, received many privileges and rights from Margrave Heinrich the Illustrious (1230-88). The edifices still existing, which were founded in the time of this ruler are: the St. Maternus infirmary, the St. Bartholomaus infirmary, the Franciscan monastery, the church of which forms part of the present Protestant church of St. Sophia, and the church of the Holy Cross, which in 1234 received a piece of the True Cross and consequently became a great resort for pilgrims. After the death of Heinrich, besides the Margrave of Meissen, both the Bishop of Meissen and the monastery of Hersfeld laid claim to Dresden; in 1319 the city finally came into the possession of the margraves. Margrave Wilhelm I made Dresden his place of residence; he enlarged the castle, granted the rights of a city to the old settlement called Alt-Dresden (Old Dresden) on the right bank of the Elbe, and founded there in 1404 a monastery of Hermits of St. Augustine. The intention of this ruler to establish a cathedral chapter in Dresden was not, however, carried out. In 1449 the city was besieged by the Hussites and badly damaged. Among the most remarkable events of the following period was the presence at Dresden of St. John Capistran, who in 1452 preached repentance here with great success.
When the lands of the House of Wettin were divided in 1485 between the two brothers, Albrecht and Ernst, Dresden was included in the possessions of Albrecht, to whose successors it has ever since belonged. Soon after this, in 1491, a great fire laid waste the city, burning to the ground the church of the Holy Cross and 270 houses, but the town recovered quickly. The city developed rapidly under Duke George the Bearded (1500-39), who was a strong opponent of the religious innovations of Luther. Soon after his death, however, his brother Heinrich introduced the Reformation into Dresden (1539). The monasteries of the Franciscans and Augustinians were suppressed; twenty-seven altars of the church of the Holy Cross were destroyed and the paintings were removed; the vessels of gold and silver were taken from the churches by the council, and the holding of Catholic church services was soon after this entirely forbidden.
During the reign of Duke Maurice, who attained the electoral dignity, the two towns were consolidated in 1550; in the time of Maurice and his successors Dresden became one of the most beautiful cities of Germany. After the sufferings of the Thirty Years War
Dresden was adorned by its rulers, Johann Georg, Augustus the Strong, and Frederick Augustus II, with fine edifices and numerous treasures of art, so that it competed with Paris in its attractions. The Seven Years War brought intense misery to the city, the population of which fell from 63,000 to the fourth part of this number. Scarcely had the place recovered when the Napoleonic Wars with their enormous burdens, to which hunger and disease were added, again brought the greatest suffering on the city. After the Wars of Liberation the development of the city steadily progressed until it was interrupted again by the Revolution of 1849 which led to the erection of barricades and to bloody strife. Since then there has been a constant and rapid growth of the city, which rivals the other great centers of the German Empire in elegance and beauty and in the activity of its industries and commerce.
After the introduction of the Reformation into Dresden, Catholicism could not exist openly. Catholics were forbidden to settle in it even as late as 1680; the few Catholics who lived there could only hear Mass in the chapel of the imperial embassy. This oppressed condition of the Catholics was not much improved when Augustus the Strong in 1697 became a convert; he gave the chapel of the hunting castle Moritzburg for Catholic worship, and in 1708 the court church of the Holy Trinity was consecrated; but public church services were still forbidden to Catholics. It was not until the Peace of Posen, December 11, 1806, that the Catholics of Saxony were granted the same freedom of worship as the Lutherans and that the Catholic and Protestant subjects of the king received the same civil and political rights. Since this date the Catholic Church in Dresden has increased, though slowly, as Saxony, notwithstanding the Catholicism of the reigning family, is strongly Protestant and has little toleration for the Church; thus, for example, the founding of monasteries is forbidden by the Constitution of 1831. The losses of the Church in Dresden annually exceed the conversions more than tenfold.