- Title: ROMANIA: Death is a laughing matter at Romanian cemetery
- Date: 19th July 2012
- Summary: MAN RINGING CHURCH BELL FUNERAL PROCESSION MOVING THROUGH SAPANTA CEMETERY VIEW OF CEMETERY
- Embargoed: 3rd August 2012 13:00
- Location: Romania
- Country: Romania
- Topics: Arts,Quirky,Light / Amusing / Unusual / Quirky
- Reuters ID: LVA2ONPD80SZF6LSHX2D00B8IXMY
- Story Text: One Romanian village takes dying a little less seriously with its very own comedy graveyard to take the edge off.
In the small village of Sapanta, tucked in a remote corner of northern Romania, life and death are celebrated equally. Visitors stroll past rows of graves, pointing at epitaphs, reading them out loud and often laughing unashamedly. But not even a tearful family laying flowers on a fresh grave takes offence because the local graveyard is called "the Merry Cemetery" and it is the place the locals are proud of.
Hundreds of brilliantly decorated wooden crosses have marked the graves of villagers in Sapanta since a local wood carver started the tradition in the 1930s.
Stan Ion Patras, who died in 1977, carved and painted his first bright blue cross in 1935, with a likeness of the deceased on top and a poem below.
Inspired by stories told about the dead person during the traditional three-day feast before the funeral, Patras would compose rhymes describing the person's life or death. The crosses apparently eased relatives' suffering and Patras got more and more orders, filling the cemetery around the village's Orthodox church with what is now the cultural legacy of this community of 5,000 people.
"It is well-known that in Romania cemetery means something very sad. This one has a touch of joy, that's why it's called "Merry Cemetery". For example sign on the cross on this grave reads: "Under this heavy cross lies my poor mother-in-law, but all of us are happy," said Liviu, who came from another town to see the famous cemetery.
Most crosses show snippets of people's everyday chores and pleasures and together create a colourful picture of village life. But some are more dramatic. One shows graphically how a local shepherd was killed by a "bad Hungarian" who first pointed a rifle at the victim and then beheaded him. Another depicts a three-year-old girl who killed in a road accident standing by her house as a car drives towards her.
"When you come here, you feel good, you are not upset anymore. You read all these words and you feel better, you are not afraid of death," said Maria, visitor to Sapanta cemetery.
Since the cemetery was discovered by tourists in the 1970s, visitors from around the world have come to Romania's remote Maramures region near the border with Ukraine to see it.
"It is a great contrast to the normal cemetery where there are very big pretentious tombs and families are more important than other families and have more money and time and arrogance to spend on themselves, but here everybody is the same, everybody has the same chance to talk to the visitor and to pass on their story," said Adam from England.
Some villagers, like the local church bell-ringer Ion Stan, compose poems for their tomb crosses themselves.
"Here I'm resting, Stan Ion is my name. As long as I lived, in a church I've sung:"God should be praised now and forever". And one more thing I liked - to ring bells as loud as I can so the whole world would hear how well Stan Ion can do it," recited Ion sitting by a cross at the cemetery.
After Patras's death his pupil Dumitru Pop took over the business.
"You should see a funeral at the Merry Cemetery - people are crying. This is the custom here: people feel sorry for a relative who has died. But two- three hours later they start laughing, they talk about him, what he has done, what kind of person he was and the mood completely changes," said Pop , who continues to work in his teacher's house.
The walls of the two-roomed house are covered with Patras's work which portrays both religion and Romania's communist past - a carved wood panel showing dictator Nicolae Ceausescu hangs next to a nativity scene.
Pop's next mission is to create a museum to display more than 100 old crosses he has stored over the years, many made by Patras. In Orthodox tradition, graves are often reused by relatives and crosses are replaced to mark the latest death.
Pop says the most important element of a good cross is the truth, that a person's life must be shown honestly.
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