The name Französische Friedrichsstadtkirche can be explained from its history. The church was erected in the former town of Friedrichstadt between 1701 and 1705 by and for the Huguenot religious refugees from France. To avoid establishing a hierarchy, it was not named after a person such as John Calvin or a Biblical figure, but after its congregation and their location.
The church was founded by the French master castle builder Jean Cayart (*1644, † 1702) and, after his death, by Abraham Qeusnay (*1660, †1726). They were both Réfugiés. People have often discussed whether the “French church of Friedrichstadt” was copied from the reformed “Temple of Charenton”. This Protestant church, the one nearest Paris, was destroyed in 1685.
The members of Berlin’s Huguenot colony set about collecting money, and by the beginning of the 18th century they had raised enough capital to build their own church. The construction work, which was done entirely by the Huguenots themselves, commenced with the laying of the foundation stone in the presence of Frederick William, the crown prince, on 1 July 1701.
The church’s simple name alone testifies to its reformed character. On the church’s outside wall, to the left, there is a commemorative plaque bearing the inscription:
built between 1701 and 1705 by J. Cayard and A. Quesnay
Renewed in 1905
after plans by O. March
Destroyed during the Second World War
Reconstructed in 1978-1983
The church interior radiates simplicity, thus expressing the Reformed conception of the church service: with the pulpit – from which the word is spread – in the centre, and beneath it the simple Communion Table with the Bible.
There is no altar, because the Reformed doctrine of the Last Supper rejects both the “real presence” of Christ in the form of wine and bread and, therefore, the altar, too, which, as such, represents a table of offering.
As the Reformed tradition prohibits imagery, the church contains neither pictorial representations nor a cross. For the followers of John Calvin and the reformed church, the prohibition of imagery is simply a logical development of the Lutheran Reformation. The Biblical reason for rejecting images is to be found in the Ten Commandments, which forbid all images including “any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth” (Exodus 20:4)
The Eye of God and the Organ
Despite the church’s “Reformed nature”, there is one exception: the organ with its nimbus. The fact that there is an organ here does not confirm the old rule stating that the congregation can sing at Reformed church services, but only if there is no instrumental accompaniment. In this case, the only image in the church is on the organ: a depiction of the Eye of God – typical of the Baroque period – on the organ case. The eye in the nimbus of the sun: a widespread symbol since the time of the ancient Egyptians, and one that was adopted by the Freemasons (among others) and became a symbol of a society’s newly found openness during the French Revolution. In a religious context, it generally testifies to the everlasting presence of an eternally vigilant God among human beings. The Eye is framed by a triangle representing the Trinity of God the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost. In the 18th century, the Age of the Enlightenment, when the first organ was installed in the church, it was possible to interpret the Eye abstractly as the “eye of the highest reason” and, therefore, not as an objective reproduction, which the Reformed conception prohibits. Even so, it is almost one of those ironies of history that this pictorial decoration, of all things, so untypical of a Reformed church, is the only original and spectacular item in the church that survived from the pre-war period. Stored elsewhere during the Second World war, the organ carving, which is gilded with gold leaf dating from 1754-55, survived the times and destruction.
Renovation 1905, destruction 1944, under reconstruction since 1978
On its bicentenary in 1905, the church was redesigned in Neo-Baroque style, after plans by Otto March. Until then, it had been aligned along a North-South axis. The entrance was exactly where the entrance to the “Refugium” restaurant is now. The pulpit was in the north. Furthermore, during the first 200 years of its existence, the church’s fittings and furnishings were simpler and more modest than they were after renovation. As part of the renovation work, the interior was “turned”: the main entrance was moved to the west and the pulpit, with the organ, to the east (where the pulpit now stands): The inscription on the gable above the portal testifies to the renovation work done during the Wilhelminian period: “To the glory of God / God bless the parish / Under the protection of the Hohenzollerns / Built in 1705. Renovated in 1905”.
The upper section of the pulpit, which was faithfully reproduced in the context of post-war reconstruction, culminates in a carving showing an ornamental allusion to the royal crown of the Hohenzollerns (and, therefore, a second “picture” in the church). After all, from the time they immigrated, the Huguenots regarded the Hohenzollerns as their royal and electoral protectors.
During the Second World War, the church was destroyed, except for the outside walls. Its reconstruction on the basis of the 1905 Neo-Baroque model began in 1978. This time, a false ceiling was installed, dividing the building into a church (above), and multi-functional rooms (below). As a result, twin steps were needed to access the church. Now, the organ is not positioned above the pulpit, as had been the case in 1905, but on the gallery opposite the entrance.
Since the inaugural church service at Easter 1983, the church has been used for services again.