The Merry Cemetery
The origin of the Romanian people is found in the pre-Christ period. The Romanians ancestors were the Dacians, related to the great Thracian family, occupying a vast territory in Eastern Europe. This people of warriors believed in a god named Zamolxes. The Dacians believed in the existence of their later life with their god, which offered them even more happiness than earthly life. That is why the Dacians did not consider death as a tragedy, but a transition to a better life. The historical writings tell us, that Dacians smiled at the moment of their death, and the funeral was followed by a party, thus celebrating the passage of the soul to a better life.
Following this ancient belief, a Romanian wood sculptor had the original idea of treating death in a cheerful way, we might even say funny. Wood sculptor and resident of Sapanta village, Stan Ioan Patras made the first painted cross in 1935, being considered the founder of the Merry Cemetery. The tradition consists in making a wooden cross that has a jovial epitaph representing the true description of the deceased’s life.
The material used to make crosses is generally oak as it can withstand weathering for a long time. After sculpting the epitaph, the cross is painted in blue color. Finally, the cross is decorated on the blue background with red and yellow paintings, cheerful colors that are precisely defying death and accepting it joyfully. The folk master created this naive art, knowing in detail the life of the villagers. So, he could accurately describe the story of the departed person in a cheery way, hence the name of the Merry Cemetery.
The origin of the color ‘Blue of Sapanta’ is from the Austro-Hungarian occupation period in Transylvania. At that time the Hungarians painted their houses in green, and the Romanians were forced to paint their houses in blue. The houses painted in green did not pay tax and the houses painted in blue were obliged to pay tax. Because the village Sapanta is now populated by Romanians, the tradition of the blue color is preserved. The master died in 1977, and the house he lived in is now a memorial house in his honor. After the master’s death, his disciple Dumitru Pop who became a master too, continues the tradition of the Merry Cemetery, which encompasses about 800 painted crosses with epitaph. We hope this tradition will continue even after the end of the current master Pop.
There are a few very special crosses, that astound and make you lough at the same time. (See video)
Article written by Gabriel Florea | Tour Guide & History buff