The Merry Cemetery: Even Death Can Become Funny
Maramures, the land of the famous wooden churches, hides a one of a kind place of rest for the dead, the Merry Cemetery. Really close to the main attractions from Sighetu Marmatiei, you will find a unique approach over death, a cemetery full of colors and anecdotes that will easily put a smile on your face.
It all began with one man’s love
Stan Ion Patras carved the first oak cross from the Merry Cemetery of Sapanta back in 1930 with his own hands, out of love for people and life. He painted them in a particular shade of blue that nowadays is known as ‘Sapanta Blue’. He believed it was the color of the sky over his home, meaning hope and freedom.
Every cross is painted using this specific blue, decorated with traditional patterns, with an image carved on top that, along with a poem or epitaph, shades some light on the past life of the dead. Some of them may seem insensitive or indiscreet, but their purpose is to portray life as it is, with good and bad, with sins or tragic accidents, with funny stories and happy moments. You’ll see people portrayed drinking, cooking or working the field. You’ll even see, in some cases, the scenes of their death. For instance, one of the crosses shows the story of a young man who was struck by lightning and died, allegedly punished for working the field on Saint John’s day, as the poem suggests.
Among all the crosses carved in his lifetime, Stan Ion Patras made his own as well. When he passed away, he left the responsibility of carrying the tradition to his apprentice – Dumitru Pop – along with the secret of the ‘Sapanta Blue’.
Currently, there are over 800 hand-made crosses and their number continues to grow as the tradition continues from master to apprentice. Dumitru Pop is currently preparing more students to take over when the time is right, teaching them the values he learned, the art of being a poet, a sculptor and a painter at the same time.
The Merry Cemetery, with its original approach, ads a little to the wonders and diversity you can find in Maramures. The north of Romania is more than worth an entire vacation for its incredible views, but there is so much more you can see, from this Merry Cemetery and its merry people to some of the oldest churches and the most idyllic haystack landscapes you can find in the country.
Come visit the Merry Cemetery in August and take part in the Long Road Festival.
Take a ride with the steam train Mocanita through the forests of Maramures.
Get a breath of fresh air and go hiking in Rodnei Mountains National Park or take a short hike of 4 kilometers to the tallest waterfall in Romania: the Horses’ Waterfall.
You are very close to the famous wooden churches that made it on the UNESCO World Heritage List so visit at least few of them.
See for yourself one of the top attractions in Maramures – Sighetu Marmatiei – only 10 kilometers away from Sapanta. You can visit the Memorial of Victims of Communism, a former prison where you can better understand what a communist regime can do to a country.