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The Miracle of the Church Bells

In September 1944, the bells of the Kuusamo church were lowered down from the bell tower with ropes. Colonel Franz Schreiber of the retreating SS Mountain Jaeger Regiment had given an order to hide the church bells into the ground. He feared that the Soviet troops would occupy Kuusamo, and the valuable bells would end up on the other side of the eastern border. It was the eve of the Lapland War.

The two Kuusamo church bells, the so-called King’s Bell and Priest’s Bell, were lowered into an empty grave, and soldiers disguised the mound as an ordinary grave.

Schreiber returned to Kuusamo fifteen years later to tell the story about the burying of the bells. The bells were searched in a major operation by a large crowd first from the north side of the church, where graves of German soldiers had been.

Finally on 20 July 1959, more than a week from the start of the search, gravedigger Niilo Kurvinen’s iron rod hit something on the front side of the church, near the street. A minesweeper confirmed the discovery as a large metal object, and eventually it turned out that, in places, there had been only 15 cm of soil covering the bells. The discovery of the bells was regarded as a miracle.

The King’s Bell and the Priest’s Bell still ring in the bell tower of Kuusamo Holy Cross Church.


“The sound is still there,” says verger Ilkka Palosaari after knocking the bell with a clapper. In the background Anu Salmenkorva, Kimmo Siikaluoma, Arvi Makkonen, Matti Hööpakka, Hanna Hartikainen, Kaarina Poukkula and Lahja Raunio.

PHOTO Wesa Rinne Photo Archive

    • The second cruciform church of Kuusamo was completed in 1800 and destroyed in 1944.
    • The shingle roofed building was almost 37 metres wide and over six metres high.
    • The church seated 1200 people.
    • Later, the log-built church was insulated and heating equipment was installed.
    • The bell tower, decorated with the Sun of Grace above the door, had been completed in 1759.
    • The so-called King’s Bell, donated by the Crown of Sweden, was rung in men’s funerals, and the so-called Priest’s Bell, acquired by Vicar Zacharias Forbus from Stockholm in 1721, was rung in women’s funerals.
    • The altarpiece was a painting Jeesus ristillä (Jesus on the Cross) by Johan Gustav Hedman. The painting and the church chandelier were not destroyed, and they are in the Kuusamo Holy Cross Church today.
    • The church and bell tower were entirely destroyed during the retreat of the German troops in autumn 1944.
    • The builders of the scale model: Kuusamo Adult Education Centre study circle and a work group comprising Eino Kuosmanen, Kaarlo Raunio, Iivo Salmenkorva, Lauri Tammi, Unto Turunen, Veikko Turunen, and the group instructor Erkki Hyvärinen. The scale of the scale model is 1:50.

    PHOTO Minna Moilanen, Kuusamo College, 2022

    • The Kemi Lappmark Parish, which extended to Inari, was founded in 1673.
    • By the mid-1600s, the Lapps of Kuusamo had been baptized.
    • In 1692, the name Kuusamo Lappmark Parish was established.
    • Until 1694, the preaching house and vicarage were located in Torangintaipale.
    • In 1694, the first church was built on the site of the present-day church, on the shore of Lake Kuusamojärvi. Instead of a cross, there was a church rooster on the roof.
    • In 1800, a new cruciform church was completed on the same site.
    • The last adjustment on the parish area was made when the Posio municipality and parish were separated from Kuusamo in 1926.
    • Laestadianism arrived in Kuusamo in the late 1860s. The first revival meetings may have been held in Purnuvaara.
    • It has been estimated that by the turn of the century, approximately a half of the scant 10,000 inhabitants of Kuusamo were involved in the Laestadian movement.
    • In 1931, the Paanajärvi border region was founded. After the Paanajärvi area was lost in the war, work in the border region was continued in Käylä, where a border region church was built in 1958.
    • During the reconstruction in 1951, the present-day Holy Cross Church was built on the site of the church that had been destroyed in the war.
    • On the churchyard, the military cemetery is guarded by the sculpture Lumipukuinen sotilas (Soldier in Winter Uniform) by Mauno Juvonen.


Sources: Pertti Ervasti, Helena Palosaari, Lapland War website, Kirjastovirma, Koillissanomat 17 August 2020

Pertti Ervasti, MSc (Econ)
Riina Puurunen, Writer 

Jonna Lohi, Pivot Translations