The cemetery of Ieud

Dan Dinescu: The upper church in Ieud (click for the full image)
From the album The Wooden Architecture of Maramureș, 1997

The upper church of Ieud is considered the oldest wooden church in Maramureș, with the year of construction of 1364. The present building, however, is only as original as the ax, whose head was replaced twice and its handle three times. Due to the recurring Tatar invasions, it burnt down several times, and each time it was rebuilt, for the last time in the late 17th century. Nevertheless, it still retains the Gothic shape characteristic of the wooden churches of Maramureș, which markedly differ from the Rusyn wooden churches with squat towers and central domes, to the north of the upper reaches of the Tisza. Inside it is adorned by naive folk murals with the fanciful depiction of the Last Judgement, and outside it is embraced with the no less fanciful old cemetery of the village.

Every cemetery has its own unique motifs, copied from generation to generation and from tomb to tomb by the members of the local community; motifs, which distinguish the graveyard even from that of the next village. In Ieud these are the photographs in folk costume inserted in the legs of the crucifixes, and the multitude of tin Christs, the aesthetics of redundancy, which is characteristic also for the inside of the wooden churches, nevertheless the sight of a million little Christs puzzle the unsuspecting visitor.

The cemetery also has a separate geniza corner, where the crucifixes left without a tomb – as they bear the image of Christ, so cannot be destroyed – wait in silence for the end of times.

In another corner of the cemetery a new grave is being digged. “Hello, hello!” calls the gravedigger’s sister the tourist roaming among the crucifixes, like a naively painted siren, but fortunately she does not offer us the grave, but rather țuică, plum brandy for twenty-five lei, and necklines made of glass beads. Although a peasant woman, she easily switches from Romanian to French and Italian. “Where did you learn it so well?” “Well, I took my language book in the evening, and I crammed it.” She carefully re-ties her scarf for the photo, then she gives me the address where we can bring it the next time, and at the same time buy some more țuică. When I ask her about the Jewish cemetery, she pops up: “Sure, I’ll take you there.” But this will be already the next story.