Tens of thousands of people took part in a moving ceremony marking the formal reconsecration of Dresden's painstakingly rebuilt Frauenkirche - Church of Our Lady - 60 years after the Baroque masterpiece was destroyed by Allied bombing during the Second World War.
The completion of a €180m (£120m) restoration project, funded by donors from across the globe, was celebrated yesterday by Dresdeners with tears in their eyes and dignitaries from Germany, Britain and the United States.
As the bells of the gleaming sandstone church rang out across the city, Jochen Bohl, the Bishop of Saxony, described the building as a symbol of peace and forgiveness. "A deep wound that has bled for so long has been healed. Our hearts and senses are moved by gratitude and great joy," he said.
Edith Weise, a Dresden resident who was married in the church in 1943 and who donated part of her pension to the reconstruction effort, was among a crowd of 100,000 onlookers. "It is a wonderful church," she said as she looked up at the building's honey-coloured dome topped by a golden orb and cross. "It brings tears to my eyes to see it again."
The German President, Horst Köhler, paid tribute to the people of Dresden who launched a campaign to rebuild the Protestant church shortly after German reunification in 1990 when few thought such a feat possible. "What has been achieved here in Dresden is an encouragement to Germany as a whole at a time when many people have cares and fear for the future," he said.
The Frauenkirche, was regarded as the finest building in a city known before the Second World War as "Florence on the Elbe". On the night of 13 February 1945 the building was hit by firebombs during one of the most devastating and controversial Allied air raids of the war. About 35,000 people were killed in the attack, which turned one of Europe's most beautiful cities into a raging inferno.
The church burnt for two days before it collapsed into a heap of rubble.