The Cheerful Cemetery

“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living,” exclaimed Greek politician Marcus Tullius Cicero. Perhaps no where else in the world is this notion more dead true than in a curious cemetery in northwest Romania.

The people of Săpânța, a small town just south of the Ukrainian border,  lead   simple rural lives. As they have for centuries, they work the fields and tend flocks. They spin wool, carve wood and drink tuica (Romanian brandy). They worship in tall wooden churches typical of the region. 

And when these people of salt and earth move on to their afterlife, their temporal lives are immortalized on colorful oak grave markers. Images and verse carved on these tombstones, vivid and almost
comical in design, tells the legacy of the people interned below. Most often, the carvings depict the dead performing the routines that filled their lives. Occasionally, the an image portrays the circumstances of a villager’s death. Epitaphs that accompany the carved image are satirical, sometimes funny, but always shed light on to the vices of Săpânța’s citizens. Regardless of the tone, the cheerful cemetary provides a sense of authentic life, not just to the good people in Săpânța, but to all of us who visit and reflect on our own deeds. 

The Dacians, ancestors of modern day Romanians, believed in immortality. And in some small measure, in Săpânța at least, they live forever.

Consider the following tales told by some of the grave markers.  maramures (10 of 23)

  • Under this heavy cross
  • my poor mother-in-law lies
  • Three more days she would have lived
  • I would lay, and she would read
  • You, who here are passing by
  • Pleas try not to wake her up
  • For if she comes home
  • She’ll bite off my head

This is where I rest
Pop Ion Osu is my name
Even though I am old I go up the hill to gather hay
And when I get there I eat cheese and stew
And after that I take my mower and start working
Because this is what peasants do.

romania maramures (4 of 8)“I am Dioca Tahului and I stay now in the shadow of aplum tree. So when you will stay near me you will find out about me that I was the pillar of my house. And I leave it with sorry and tears. From my childhood I liked to work and to take care of the house. I also liked to deal with horses and sheep. Nobody in the village had horses and sheep like I. I loved horses terribly and for them I even died. When sitting on a mound of grass on a wagon pulled by a horse, I fell and was killed.”

romania maramures (2 of 8)“Here I rest. Pop Grigore is my name. From mychildhood I liked very much the violin. So too, I was playing the violin at each wedding as I danced. At each wedding and during each dance, I made there my happiness. And I knew how to make all things. I made everything I could. Because in this the way lives a man who loves life. He is also fighting for his fortune, living with happiness, and not thinking too much about life, because tomorrow life goes and is leaving you.”

  • May the flames torch you, taxi

  • That came from Sibiu
  • As wide as the Romanian Country is
  • You couldn’t stop anywhere else
  • But near our house
  • Hitting me
  • Grieving my parents
  • For nothing they will grieve more
  • Than their dead boy
  • Nor is there anger greater
  • Than a dead daughter
  • As long as my parents live
  • They’ll mourn me.

  • “As I lived in this world,
  • I took the skin of many sheep
  • Good meat I prepared
  • So you can eat freely
  • I offer you good fat meat
  • and to have a good desire for food.”

Tuica is pure venom
She brings tears and torment
And this it brought to me too
Death put me under her foot.
He who likes tuica a lot
Will have at the end my lot
As I have loved tuica a lot
And with it in hand I died.
Here rests Dumitru Holdis
Lived 45 years
Sudden death
In 1958.

Stefan is my name. 

As long as I lived, I liked to drink.
When my wife left me,
I drank because I was sad.
Then I drank more
to make me happy.
So, it wasn’t so bad
that my wife left me,
Because I got to drink
with my friends.
I drank a lot,
and now, I’m still thirsty.
So you who come
to my resting place,
Leave a little wine here.”

maramures (12 of 23)
Grave marker of Stan Ion Patras, folk hero, carver, poet and creator of the Merry Cemetery

The Cheerful Cemetery, better know as the Merry Cemetery, was the creation of woodcarver and poet Stan Ion Patras. Upon Mr. Patras’ death in 1977, his apprentice, Dumitru Pop Tincu took over the chisels and poetry.  

In Mr. Patras’ own words:

  • I was called Stan Ion Patras
  • Good people hear what I have to say

  • And I will tell you no word of a lie.
  • For as long as I lived
  • I never wished anyone harm,
  • Only good, as much as I could
  • No matter for whom
  • Oh this poor old world of mine
  • It was hard to live through it.

The Dacians, ancestors of modern day Romanians, believed in immortality. And in some small measure, in Săpânța at least, they live forever.

For information on other curious cemeteries around the world, click over to National Geographic Top 10 Cemeteries to Visit.

More images of Săpânța and the Maramures region can be seen at Heath Cox Photography.

Location: The Merry Cemetery is located in the village of Săpânța in the county of Maramureş, Romania. It takes about an hour and a half to drive from Baia Mare, the largest nearby town, to Săpânța. Cluj-Napoca (Kolozsvár in Hungarian) is 230 kms away, three and a half hours by car. Nyíregyháza, Hungary is less than three hours away.

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