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The Merry Cemetery is perhaps the most unique cemetery in the world, with poems and jokes written on the tombstones

David Goran

The Merry Cemetery is a cemetery in the village of Săpânța, Maramureş county, Romania, that is famous, not just in Romania but all over the world for its one of a kind way of looking upon death, not as a sad event, but as a celebration of a life that ended.

It is famous for its colourful tombstones with naïve paintings describing, in an original and poetic manner, the people who were buried there as well as scenes from their lives.

The Merry Cemetery crosses in pale blue color. Source

The Merry Cemetery crosses in pale blue color. Source

A man by the name of Stan Ioan Patras, a woodworker, a poet and a painter born in 1908, began the tradition of these crosses back in 1935, and after his death in 1977, his work was carried on by one of his apprentices, Dumitru Pop (AKA Tincu).

For more than 50 years, Ion Patras created hundreds of crosses and tombstones. Source

For more than 50 years, Ion Patras created hundreds of crosses and tombstones. Source

 

Instead of a straightforward description, the tombstones are filled with poignant, poetic epitaphs. Source

Instead of a straightforward description, the tombstones are filled with poetic epitaphs. Source1 Source2

Patras carved the crosses out of oak and painted them blue, sprinkling in bits of color like red, yellow or black. He painted the crosses in order to protect them from rain and frost, thus making them last longer.

In the upper part, there is a painting that depicts the person who passed away in a colorful and dynamic scene of his or her life. Underneath, there is a poem. Patras would usually write these little poems himself after getting to know the deceased through his/her family. As of the 1960s, more than 800 of such oak wood crosses came into sight.

 

The Dacian tribes believed that death was a moment filled with joy and anticipation for a better life. Source

The Dacian tribes believed that death was a moment filled with joy and anticipation for a better life. Source

 

The tombstones are colorful and beautifully carved in wood. Source

Colorful and beautiful. Source

The unusual feature of this cemetery is that it diverges from the prevalent belief, culturally shared within European societies – a belief that views death as something indelibly solemn. Connections with the local Dacian culture have been made, the tribes which inhabited Romania’s territory long before the roman invasion.

They believed that death is just a gate to eternal happiness, a chance to meet Zamolxes, their supreme god.

The Merry Cemetery became an open-air museum and a national tourist attraction. Source

The Merry Cemetery became an open-air museum and a national tourist attraction. Source

For example, even Stan Ion Patras has a poem carved on his tombstone:

Stan Ioan Pătraş carved the crosses until his death in 1977. His tombstone at the Merry Cemetery. Source

Stan Ioan Pătraş carved the crosses until his death in 1977. This is his tombstone. Source

Since I was a little boy

I was known as Stan Ion Pătraş

Listen to me, fellows

There are no lies in what I am going to say

All along my life

I meant no harm to anyone

But did good as much as I could

To anyone who asked

Oh, my poor World

Because It was hard living in it

 

But some of the epigraphs are often darkly funny:

 

Under this heavy cross

Lies my poor mother-in-law

Three more days should she have lived

I would lie, and she would read (this cross).

You, who here are passing by

Not to wake her up please try

Cause’ if she comes back home

She’ll criticise me more.

But I will surely behave

So she’ll not return from her grave.

Stay here, my dear mother-in-law!