"Life is a precious gift of love, almost too great to understand," said the wife. "And just to think that this fullness of bliss shall still increase and grow, in another life, throughout eternity. I can hardly conceive of it!"
"And it certainly also shows the arrogance of people," said her husband. "It really shows a terrible conceit when people persuade themselves to think they'll live forever – become as God! Were these not the words of the serpent, the master of lies?"
"You surely don't doubt that there is a life after this, do you?" asked his young wife, and it was as if a shadow passed through their sunlit thoughts for the first time.
"Faith promises it, I know, and the priests tell us it is so," said the young man. "But, happy as I am now, I feel and know that it is only pride, an arrogant thought that demands another life after this – an extension of this happiness. Haven't we been granted enough in this life, so that we could and should be satisfied?"
"Yes, that has been given us," said the young wife, "but how many thousands find this life a heavy trail! How many have been thrown into this world only to find poverty, shame, sickness, and misfortune! No, if there were no afterlife, the blessings on this earth would be too unequally divided – our God would not be a God of justice!"
"The beggar down on the street has pleasures just as dear to him as the king enjoys in his splendid palace," said the young man. "And what about the poor beast of burden that is beaten and starved and works itself to death? Doesn't it sense the bitterness of its miserable life? Why shouldn't it too demand an afterlife, and call it unfair that it wasn't granted the advantages of a higher creation?"
"Christ told us, 'In my Father's house are many mansions,' " answered the young wife. "The Kingdom of Heaven is as infinite as God's love. The animal is His creation too, and I don't believe that any single life will be lost, but that each will be granted the greatest share of happiness it is capable of receiving."
There stood Jörgen in his wretched clothes that looked as if they had been washed in a ditch and dried in a chimney; this was the first time that he, the dweller of the sand dunes, had ever seen a great city. How tall the houses were, how narrow the streets, swarming with human beings constantly rushing to and fro, a regular whirlpool of townspeople and farmers, monks and soldiers – a clamor, a screaming, a jangling of bells from asses and mules, a clanging of bigger bells from the churches – song and musical instruments – knocking and hammering, for every tradesman seemed to have his shop either on his threshold or on the sidewalk. And all the while the hot sun burned down, and the air was heavy. It was as if one had entered a bake oven full of beetles, cockchafers, bees, and flies, all humming and buzzing with all their might; Jörgen hardly knew if he were walking or standing still.
Suddenly he saw before him the mighty portals of a cathedral, with lights streaming out through the twilight of the colonnades, and the fragrance of incense saluting him. Even the poorest beggar in rags could venture to climb those stairs and enter. The sailor who had taken Jörgen ashore went into the church; Jörgen followed, and soon he stood in the sanctuary. Colored pictures glowed out from golden backgrounds; amid flowers and candles at the altar he beheld the Blessed Virgin holding the Holy Child; priests in their vestments were chanting, while pretty choirboys swung silver censers. What magnificence he saw there! All this glory and beauty, streaming into Jörgen's soul, nearly overpowered him. The church and the faith of his fathers surrounded him and awakened a chord in his soul, causing tears to come to his eyes.
He went toward the church, where the sand lay drifted up against the wall and half covered the windows. The church door was unlocked and easy to open; Jörgen went in.
The wind raged and howled over the town of Skagen; such a hurricane had not been known within the memory of man. It was awful weather! But Jörgen was sheltered within the house of God, and while black night reigned outside, within him everything grew bright – bright with the light of the immortal soul. He felt as if the heavy stone in his head had burst with a clang! He imagined that the organ was playing, but it was only the storm and the roaring of the ocean that he heard. As he sat down in one of the pews he thought the candles were being lighted, one by one, until there was a blaze of light such as he had only seen in the land of the Spaniards. Then all the portraits of the old councilors and burgomasters came to life; they stepped down from the walls where they had hung for so many years, and seated themselves in the choir. Then the gates and doors of the church swung open, and all the dead entered, festively dressed, as was customary in the olden days; sweet music was played as they walked in and seated themselves in the pews. The psalm singing swelled like the rolling of the ocean. Jörgen's old foster parents from the Hunsby sand dunes were there, and the good Merchant Brönne and his wife, and beside them, next to Jörgen, sat their gentle, loving daughter. She gave her hand to Jörgen, and together they went up to the altar where they had knelt once before, and the pastor joined their hands and consecrated them to a life of love. Then the sound of the trumpet burst forth, marvelously like the voice of child, full of longing and expectation; it swelled into the sound of an organ, full of rich, glorious tones, blessed to hear and yet mighty enough to burst the tombstones on the graves.
The ship hanging in the choir sank downward, in front of them, and grew vast and splendid with silken sails and golden masts, with anchors of red gold and ropes of silken twine, like the ship in the old ballad. The bridal couple stepped on board, and all the congregation followed; there were room and enjoyment for all. Then the arches and walls of the church blossomed like the elder and the fragrant lime trees; joyfully they waved their green branches, and bowed, and parted. The ship was lifted up and sailed with them through the ocean, through the air. Every candle in the church became a tiny star; the winds sang a hymn, and all joined in:
"In love, to glory! No life shall be lost! Supreme happiness forever! Hallelujah!"
And these were Jörgen's last words in this mortal world, for the thread that held the immortal spirit snapped; only a lifeless corpse lay in the dark church, while the storm howled and covered it with drifting sand.
The next morning was Sunday, and the pastor and congregation set out for church. The road, buried in sand, was almost impassable. When they reached the church they found an enormous sand heap completely covering the door. Then the pastor prayed briefly and said that as God had now closed the door to this His house, they must go forth and raise Him a new one elsewhere. So they sang a psalm and returned home.
In vain Jörgen was sought throughout the town of Skagen and the sand dunes; it was supposed that the rolling waves of sand had buried him beneath them.
But his body was entombed in a vast sarcophagus, in the very church itself. During the storm our Lord cast earth over his coffin; the great heaps of sand lay above and around it, and they cover it to this day. The drifting sand lies piled above those mighty arches; thorns and wild roses now twine over the church, where the visitor struggles on toward its tower still showing above the sand. His tombstone may be seen for miles; no king ever had a more magnificent one. And no one will ever disturb the repose of the dead, for none until now has ever known his resting place; for this story was sung to me by the storm among the sand dunes.
Jörgen's transformation and redemption in the church takes place inside his head. It is unclear whether what happens is real (in any sense) or not. It is a sort of dream, in which Jörgen's soul sees a divine light and experiences happiness in illusive dream pictures, while he – as a matter of fact – dies. The scene is closely related to the death of The Little Match Girl and The Old Oak Tree's Last Dream.
The oak tree dream is, according to Johan de Mylius, at the core of the entire oeuvre, which Mylius conceives as centered about transformation in death and rebirth, and the striving against this kind of transformation. Cf. Mylius: Forvandlingens pris. H.C. Andersen og hans eventyr (The price of transformation. HCA and his fairytales), 2004.