Christiane Eberhardine, "Mother of the People"

The electors of Saxony in Dresden had always been strong supporters of the Reformation and the Lutheran Faith.  So when in 1696, August the Strong (1670-1733) converted to Catholicism in order to also obtain the title of King of Poland, his Saxon subordinates were appalled and horrified. The Protestants in Saxony feared the Polish Catholics would enforce a counter-reformation in their country.

August the Strong’s wife, Christiane Eberhardine refused to convert also, refused to attend the coronation, and even refused to ever set foot in Poland.  She became a heroine to the people of Saxony, the mascot of the Protestants.

Christiane Eberhardine would join her husband in Dresden for important events, such as the state visit of the King of Denmark in 1709 and the wedding of her son in 1719.  She lived in voluntary exile about 100 miles (1-2 days travel in those days) from the Dresden court in the town of Torgau during the winter, and in the town of Pretzsch in summer. Her husband rarely missed her, spending his time with a series (at least 17) of mistresses between 1694 and his death in 1733.

When she died on September 5, 1727, it was in Pretzsch an der Elbe that she had a simple Lutheran burial in St. Nicholas Evangelical Church. Her husband did not attend, nor did her son.

However, the Protestants wanted to give her a ceremony worth of a queen, and especially worth of the “Landesmutter” (mother of the people) that she had been to them.  Among the students at the Leipzig University was a young (23-year-old) wealthy nobleman, Hans Carl von Kirchbach (1704-1753).  He got permission from King August to hold a memorial service at the University. Von Kirchbach funded the event himself.  He also spoke the Ode in between the two parts of the cantata.  He persuaded the University to cooperate and offer its church, St. Paulikirche, to hold the memorial service.  It was thus not officially a church service, as the Queen of Poland could not have an official Lutheran service, but a University event.  Among the guests were dignitaries of the University, but also rulers from Saxony and abroad, and many important ladies. 

The fact that the memorial was privately funded and presented as a University event must have made it easier for Bach to get good singers and instrumentalists. For singers he did not have to use the ill-qualified boys of St. Thomas School, and for instrumentalists he could also draw on the secular Collegium Musicum.  It is interesting that even though Christiane Eberhardine was never crowned Queen of Poland, she still carried the title, and Bach’s inscription on the title of cantata reads:

Tombeau de S.M. la Reine de Pologne

(on the grave of Her Majesty the Queen of Poland)

— Wieneke Gorter, October 5, 2018

Christiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth

Christiane Eberhardine of Brandenburg-Bayreuth