Orb and Cross

The Making of the Dresden Frauenkirche Orb and Cross

The Board appointed Trustee Peter Nardini project manager for the work. Dresden consultants IPRO provided a detailed history of the Orb and Cross which was translated by Dr Judith Purver of the University of Manchester. This provided an invaluable technical and historical record. Later this was complemented by considerable additional documentation received later from German colleagues, which included some 126 pages of technical specifications and 36 technical A2 size drawings. This was translated and rendered usable by technical translator Gudrun Lawlor, without whose invaluable assistance the project could not have gone forward. Further assistance was rendered by Ken Davis in rationalising the technical drawings to usable computer drawings.

Over a period of several weeks discussions took place with qualified firms of silversmiths and tender documents were prepared: John McCartney of Rolls Royce Aeroengines was helpful in preparing the tendered contract. Six silversmiths expressed interest and each firm was visited, to discuss the scale of the proposed work and to assess the size and scale of the work and the firm’s previous record.

Three of the interested companies requested the full set of tendering documents and the tender was finally awarded to Grant MacDonald Silversmiths who were instructed to start the work immediately, given the desirability of displaying the Orb and Cross on the occasion of the State Visit of the German President to the United Kingdom, the following December.

It transpired that Grant Macdonalds master silversmith, Alan Smith is the son of one of the bomber pilots who had taken part on the raid over Dresden on the night of the 14th of February 1945. The symmetry of the situation was not lost either in Dresden or in the international media, and it consequently raised the already considerable interest in the project.

Work began in July 1998 in Grant MacDonalds workshops, under the instruction that everything had to be hand made, as it had been in the 18th century.

The key components of the overall structure were

  • The Cross (in four parts)
  • The Clouds of Heaven (in two parts)
  • Jacob’s Tears
  • The Rays of Glory (in four parts)
  • The Floral Vase (too many parts to mention)
  • The Orb (in two parts)
  • The Central Band (or torus)
  • The Base Losange (in three parts)

The inspection team from Dresden which visited Grant MacDonalds workshops to assess the work in progress found to be more than satisfactory.
alan-smithAlan Smith – silversmith At the 70th meeting of its Board, The Dresden Trust recorded its deep regret at the passing in November 2012 of one of the Trust’s most devoted members – London silversmith Alan Smith. The son of one of the pilots who took part in the February 1945 raid on Dresden, Alan Smith headed the team (at Grant Macdonald in Blackfriars, London) which made the Orb and Cross for the Frauenkirche. From the first hammer blow on the copper sheet from which these were moulded, he undertook this work with devotion and skill, with heart as well as hand and won the respect and affection of the people of Dresden. Inspired and moved by his father’s remorse about the destruction and loss of life in which he had unhappily been involved, his name will long be remembered.

The following pictures were taken during the hand raising of the Orb and Cross

Watching the progress of the work was inspirational; the energy with which the whole team at Grant MacDonalds threw themselves into the task was remarkable. The Team Leader (Alan Smith was like a man possessed, as were also Grant Macdonald and other members of the team. It was wonderful to watch the flat sheets and lengths of metal hammered into the most exquisite curves and shapes. Pure muscle, stamina, immense talent and years of experience came together to produce the masterpiece of British Craftsmanship which now proudly stands on the Dome of the Frauenkirche in Dresden.

The Orb and Cross – Its Progress around Britain

The Dresden Trust strongly believed that the Orb and Cross made for the Frauenkirche in Dresden should be shown in as many parts of Britain as possible. The people of Britain needed to see the magnificent object that superb British craftsmanship had produced, which was eventually to stand on the Dome of Dresden’s Frauenkirche.

The hope was that the efforts of the Trust to promote reconciliation between Britain and Germany would be thrown into sharp relief and, that they would thus encourage further donations.

On other occasions Grant Macdonald was required to assemble and disassemble the various parts of the Orb and Cross, which was a considerable exercise, made a special cage which was needed to support each piece, and designed a heavy metal support stand. Great care was needed throughout when the assembly and deconstruction was in hand, as any damage needed to be repaired before its next journey. Between times, the Orb and Cross were moved back to Grant Macdonald’s work shops.

Inevitably the Orb and Cross sustained some scratches and other blemishes and these were carefully repaired before its next destination.

The locations where the Orb and Cross was exhibited were as follows:

  • Windsor Castle,
  • Liverpool Cathedral,
  • Coventry Cathedral,
  • St Andrews Cathedral Edinburgh,
  • St Pauls Cathedral, London, and
  • Finally The Dresden Frauenkirche itself.

In Dresden, after the handover of the Orb and Cross to our German friends, the Cross stood outside the Frauenkirche at ground level for 3-4 years. After the completion of the building, the Orb and Cross had to be thoroughly cleaned and then given two new coats of full gilding. The Orb and Cross were raised to the dome of the Frauenkirche on June 2005.