One of the characters is Kai Schweigaard, the newly arrived, young, unmarried priest. Kai has been sent to the isolated village of Buntagen, Norway. It is his first assignment and he is eager to make a good impression and rise in the ranks of the Church. He has a fiancee back home and his success will allow him to marry and bring her to his side. The church in which he finds himself is too small for the congregation, is cold and drafty and totally dark and depressing. Indeed, at one of his first services, the snow falls through the roof onto the congregants and one of them, an elderly lady, literally freezes to death and is frozen to the wall upon which she had collapsed. Needless to say,one of Kai’s plans involves building a new Church.
Astrid Henke, is a young unmarried member of the parish. She comes from an ancient, once wealthy farming family of the town. An ancestor, much to Astrid and her family’s dismay took all of his money to purchase new bells for this Church in which Kai finds himself. That donation involved the melting of the ancestor’s silver and its inclusion in the metal used to create what are known as the Schwesterglocken, or Sister Bells. These two bells are huge and loud and their sound is as much part of the town’s life as the heartbeats of its individual residents. They hang in this ancient building, known as a stave church, which is built in an old and beloved style of the towns of Norway. There is no way that they would be able to fit into the design of a new modern Church.
Soon, Kai finds that his Stave church is considered to be unique and important to historians and architects from Germany, who offer to purchase it. Ecstatic at this influx of funds to help his build his new church, Kai readily enters into a contract and Gerhard Schnauer is sent to supervise the dismantling and marking of the pieces of the Stave church which will be razed and rebuilt in Germany. Gerhard, too, is young and unmarried.Astrid does not want the bells to go from the village– both men want to please her–but how? The conflict and resolution is interesting in itself but, in my opinion, the star of the story is the Stave Church and the symbols and forms found within it.
All in all, a multifaceted historical novel with interesting characters, environment and conflicts.