Founded as the Bishopric of Meissen (German: Bistum Meißen) in 968, it was dissolved in 1539 during the Protestant Reformation. The diocese was reestablished in 1921 and renamed Dresden-Meissen in 1980. Today its central church is Dresden Cathedral, the former Catholic Church of the Court of Saxony Sanctissimae Trinitatis built from 1739 until 1755 under Elector Frederick Augustus II, and its patron saint is Benno of Meissen.
The modern city of Meissen owes its origin to a castle built by King Henry I the Fowler about 928 to protect German colonists among the pagan Wends. To insure the success of the Christian missions, Otto I suggested at the Roman Synod of 962 the creation of an archiepiscopal see at Magdeburg. Pope John XII consented, and shortly before the execution of the plan in 968 it was decided at the Synod of Ravenna (967) to create three bishoprics — Meissen, Merseburg, and Zeitz — as suffragans of the Archbishopric of Magdeburg. The year in which the Diocese of Meissen was established is disputed, as the oldest extant records may be forgeries; however, the record of endowment by Otto I in 971 is genuine.
The first bishop, Burchard (died 969), established a foundation (monasterium) which in the course of the 11th century developed a chapter of canons. In 1346 the diocese stretched from the Ore Mountains and Iser Mountains in the south, from there northwards downstream the Queis and Bober rivers, forming the eastern boundary, in the north downstream the Oder to the junction of the Lusatian Neisse and on along the Oder, then crossing to the middle course of the Spree in the northwest. It embraced the five provostries of Meissen, Riesa, Wurzen, Grossenhain and Bautzen, the four archdeaneries of Nisani (Meissen), Chemnitz, Zschillen (Wechselburg) and Lower Lusatia, and the two deaneries of Meissen and Bautzen. Poorly endowed in the beginning, it appears to have acquired later large estates under Otto III and Henry II.
The chief task of the bishops of the new see was the conversion of the Wends, to which Bishops Volkold (died 992) and Eido (died 1015) devoted themselves with great zeal; but the slow evangelization was yet incomplete when the investiture conflict threatened to arrest it effectively. Saint Benno (1066–1106), bishop when these troubles were most serious, was appointed by Henry IV and appears to have been in complete accord with the emperor until 1076; in that year, although he had taken no part in the Great Saxon Revolt, he was imprisoned by Henry for nine months. Escaping, he joined the Saxon princes, espoused the cause of Pope Gregory VII, and in 1085 took part in the Gregorian Synod of Quedlinburg, for which he was deprived of his office by the emperor, a more imperially disposed bishop being appointed in his place. On the death of Gregory, Benno made peace with Henry, was reappointed to his former see in 1086, and devoted himself entirely to missionary work among the Slavs.
Among his successors, Herwig (died 1119) sided with the pope, Godebold with the emperor. In the 13th century the pagan Wends were finally converted to Christianity, chiefly through the efforts of the great Cistercian monasteries, the most important of which were Dobrilugk and Neuzelle. Among the convents of nuns, Heiligenkreuz (English: Holy Cross) at Meissen, Marienthal near Zittau, Marienstern on the White Elster, and Mühlberg (Marienstern Abbey) deserve mention.
Among the later bishops, who ranked after the 13th century as prince-bishops (Fürsten) of the Holy Roman Empire, however, again and again disputed in that position by the Margraves of Meissen, the most notable are Wittigo I (1266–1293) and John I of Eisenberg (1340–1371). The former began the magnificent Gothic cathedral in Meissen, in which are buried nine princes of the margravial House of Wettin; the latter, as notary and intimate friend of the Margrave of Meissen, afterwards the Emperor Charles IV, protected the interests of his church and increased the revenues of the diocese. During the latter's administration, in 1344, Prague was made an archiepiscopal see.
In 1365 Pope Urban V appointed the Archbishop of Prague legatus natus, or perpetual representative of the Holy See, for the Dioceses of Meissen, Bamberg and Regensburg (Ratisbon); the opposition of Magdeburg made it impossible to exercise in Meissen the privileges of this office, and Meissen remained, though under protest, subject to the jurisdiction of the Metropolitan of Magdeburg. John's successor, John II of Jenstein (1376-9), who resigned Meissen on his election to the see of Prague, Nicholas I (1379–1392), John III (1393-8), and Thimo of Colditz (1399–1410), were appointed directly from Rome, which set aside the elective rights of the cathedral chapter. Thimo, a Bohemian by birth, neglected the diocese and ruined it financially.