DRESDEN, Germany (AP) – Some 60,000 people celebrated the reopening of Dresden’s restored baroque cathedral Sunday – 60 years after Allied bombs destroyed the 18th-century church and its famed bell-shaped dome during World War II.

German President Horst Koehler, Britain’s Duke of Kent and the ambassadors of the United States and France were among 1,800 guests at the dedication ceremony in the Frauenkirche cathedral.

People from across Germany and beyond gathered in the broad city square outside and watched on giant video screens as the service began to the pealing of the Lutheran church’s eight bells.

From the richly decorated church’s restored pulpit, Bishop Jochen Bohl said the restoration of the cherished landmark was a “great work in the spirit of reconciliation.”

“Our hearts and senses are moved by gratitude and great joy,” Bohl told the audience, which also included German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and his designated successor, Angela Merkel, who sat next to U.S. Ambassador William R. Timken Jr.

Of the project’s overall cost of $215 million, roughly $120 million came from donations – including a sizable amount from the United States and Britain, whose forces destroyed many German cities in defeating the Nazis.

For 47 years, Dresden residents had known the Frauenkirche, or Church of Our Lady, as a 43-foot high mound of rubble flanked by two jagged walls. That was all that remained after British and U.S. planes strafed the city with firebombs on the night of Feb. 13-14, 1945.

East German authorities had left it untouched as a memorial. But pressure for its reconstruction and fund-raising gained momentum after the fall of communism and Germany’s 1990 reunification.

Inside, the cathedral is bright, painted in pastel yellows, pinks and blues and trimmed with gold. Light shines through clear glass windows high in the sandstone dome, topped with a golden cross and orb.

Part of the church’s uniqueness is its round structure, the pews fanning out from the altar in a circle. The upper galleries also hold pews.

And while the inside smells of new wood and fresh paint, there are many reminders of a past that included performances by Bach and Richard Wagner.

Two thousand pieces of the original altar were cleaned and incorporated into the new structure. The church’s outer walls are mottled with original stones, blackened with time and age. Most visible, to the right of the new altar, is the cross that once topped the dome, now twisted and charred.

AP-ES-10-30-05 1823EST

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