Death is often associated with grief and sadness. But there is a place in Romania, where death and joyfulness can be seen together: The Merry Cemetery in Săpânța: vivid colors of the crosses, satirical epitaphs, naive paintings with scenes of the deceased life and poetry joyful written. Today the Merry Cemetery is an open-air museum and a tourist attraction.
"Underneath this heavy cross
Lies my mother-in-law poor
Had she lived three days more
I would be here and she would read
You that are passing by
Try not to wake her up
For if she comes back home
She’ll bite my head off
But I will act in the way
That she will not return
Stay here my dear
But how was this association born? The Romanian people often associate themselves with their ancestors: the Dacians. The Dacians believed in the immortality of the soul and like many other cultures, they believed that death is only the journey to a better life. When taking this last journey, one could meet the supreme god, Zalmoxis. And this is how the transformation took place, and the place where death isn't tragic anymore came to life.
Stan Ioan Pătras, sculptor, painter, poet and a local folk artist started the creation of the cemetery in the mid-1930’s. Stan Ioan Pătraș carved his masterpieces for half a century and past his work down to his apprentice, Dumitru Pop Tincu. Today, one visitor can see over 800 crosses, at this open-air museum.
The crosses are made of oak, which is properly dried and carved by hand. On the upper part of the cross, a scene from the deceased life is carved in a naive, simple way. The scenes present the deceased occupation or a virtue of them. Here are some example of scenes: men cutting wood, women spinning wool or weaving rugs, housewives baking bread, musicians playing instruments.
After the carving, the crosses are painted: always a vivid blue background (the blue color got the name Săpânța blue) and vibrant yellow, green, white and red for the scenes.
Each cross has a poem with a few simple rhymes. The epitaphs are written in the local dialect and messages from the dead to the living world. The poems contain the name of the deceased and are usually written in a lyrical style. Bad habits are humorously presented and there is a moral.
"Ever since a little boy
I was called Stan Ion Pătraș
Please listen to me good folks
What I say are not lies
All the days that I lived
I never wished ill for anyone
But all the good that I could
To whoever asked for it."
The Merry Cemetery Săpânța is a place where death is joyful. It is indeed so visited, that one might ask if this is really a place to rest.
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