Merry cemetery

After the sad story of the Armenian cemetery of Julfa, let us now see a merry cemetery.

Here I lie. My name is Stan Ion Mihăieş and I was a policeman. From here I went to Braşov where I was a good policeman. And now I give a salute to you because we will not see each other any more. I said farewell to the world at the age of 58, and reposed in the year of 1952.

View Río Wang in a larger map
The merry cemetery – this is also how it is “officialy” called: Cimitirul Vesel – is in the village of Săpânţa of Maramureş county at the Ukrainian-Romanian border, only some eighty kilometers from the Hungarian border. Its establishment was the merit of the local wood carver Stan Ioan Patraş who since around 1935 has become with his popular rhymed epitaphs and colored death images the specialist of wooden crosses in the village. These crosses attest the same breathtaking creativity of Romanians as among others the village churches and wooden houses painted both in- and outside all over Transylvania.

Here I lie. I was called Stan Anuţa, but in my childhood my name was Prilogan. Since I have married Vasil, we have lived well, everybody saw it in the village. I maintained a beautiful household, I was a believer, on the feast of Epiphany I served to the priest at our table during the benediction of our house. I do not serve any more, because I have moved here, under the shadow of the church.

I am Dioca Ţăhu, here I lie in the shadow of the plum tree. If you stop here, you will get to know that I was a column of my house which I have left crying and mourning. Since my childhood I loved to work, I loved very much to take care of the horse and sheep. None else in the village had such horses and sheep like me. I loved very much the horses, and they were also the reason of my death. For while sitting on the haystack on my coach, I fell down and this is how I found my death.

The verses and the images represent the life of the deceased as compressed into one definitive moment, in a fixed posture, like on the peasants’ photos: in the way as they wanted to see themselves and have themselves seen, indicating that they suited the norms of the community.

In a very few case the grave-post presents the deceased without any idealization. Who was it to permit to (or even pay for) having his or her kin immortalized in this way? One thing is certain that this cross will be a memento against drinking for the whole community in his death just like his person was in his life.

And here is the inn-keeper too, who was his ruin. True, he apologizes of having always cautiously retailed alcohol: “to whoever it went quickly to the head, I only gave a half shooter, but to the sober ones I gave with full glass”.

Cross of a child. “My dear sister, while you live, take care of my tomb.”

In other cases it is the reason of the death that they represent, when it was exceptional and tragic and thus memorable for all.

And here is the master himself, “the creator of the Merry Cemetery”. Here he was already modeled by his successor, but in the following image which hangs on the wall of the nearby Stan Ioan Patraş memorial house next to the carved tableau of Nicolae Ceauşescu with the Executive Committee of the Romanian Communist Party and the plate painted with the arms of the Communist Romania, he himself immortalized the moment when in 1935 he began to carve the first cross.

And by now even the cross of the master’s successor – who is here painting the cross of the master – has been painted by his successor.

My one-time master, the death and cemetery researcher, psychologist, painter and visual anthropologist Ernő Kunt, as he did in those times when after a long day of fieldwork we sat down at the discussion table, would also ask me now: what do you think about it? And I would say something like as in a traditional peasant community every important occurrence in the life of an individual from birth through wedding to death and to mourning is a public event, thus these grave-posts also speak to the community, reinforcing its norms and defining the place of the individual in it, much more than in our culture where death and grave are part of the personal sphere. I would also say that probably it was some local master in other cemeteries too who established a local style of crosses and headstones, and this is why every cemetery has its own style and face. He would smile with satisfaction, I don’t know whether for my reply or for what he is going to say, and would begin to expose his opinion. And I would listen attentively, for by now he knows already much more about death than anyone else.

the pictures are from here, here and here

12 comentarios:

Olive dijo...

Wonderful pictures, pretty history and certainly a place to visit.

Thank you for showing it :)

Olive, Belgium

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you for visiting it! :)

Some more merry (and some less merry) cemeteries will follow in the near future, so keep an eye on us!

Studiolum dijo...

The New York Times on May 29, 2002 also published an article on the cemetery with much good extra infos and translations of some more funeral poems.

However, the note at the end of the article that Sâpănţa people “don’t react to death as though it were a tragedy” and that this attitude probably “comes from the time of the Dacians, early inhabitants of Romania” who “were fearless in battle and went laughing to their grave” is cheap journalisticism. Not just because there is absolutely no continuity between ancient Dacians and modern Romanians. But also because a Romanian photographer regularly visiting the cemetery attests just the contrary:

“Cimitirul Vesel... acest nume este un unicat prin paradoxul sau, la fel ca si locul pe care il defineste. Cimitirul vesel este insa un fenomen mult mai complex, semantica numelui sau fiind destul de indepartata de continutul unui cimitir. Desigur pentru vizitatorul aflat la primul contact cu acest loc, cimitirul poate parea vesel. Personal, am avut aceeasi impresie, pana in ziua in care am luat parte la o inmormantare in acest cimitir. Am vazut atunci la oamenii implicati in eveniment, toate trairile obisnuite in astfel de imprejurari. Veti vedea in fotografiile facute cu acest prilej, intiparita pe fetele oamenilor, multa durere, suferinta muta si revolta in fata mortii care le-a rapit semenul. Nu era atunci, nu era de loc atunci un spatiu pentru veselie, cimitirul din Sapanta... Era un spatiu al durerii si resemnarii.”

“Merry Cemetery” – this name is a unique paradox just like the place it defines. The “merry cemetery” is a very complex phenomenon, and the semantics of this name is quite different from the context of a cemetery. Certainly, for a visitor on the first occasion the cemetery may seem merry. Personally I had the same impression until one day I took part in a funeral in this cemetery. Then I saw that the persons involved behaved just like it can be expected everywhere under such circumstances. The photos made on this occasion show grave faces and attest lots of pain, suffering and shock before death that robbed them of their beloved. No, the cemetery of Sâpănţa was absolutely not a merry place then… It was a place of pain and sorrow.”

Effe dijo...

lascio un solitario commento in un post "morto" da tempo, come si conviene all'argomento.
E' una Spoon River perfetta.
Una bellissima antologia.
In generale, i cimiteri raccontano molto della comunuità dei viventi. L'inseguirsi e il mischiarsi dei cognnomi, le famiglie che hanno conosciuto la gloria di tombe fastose ridotte poi in rovina, fotografie di giovani che credevano con certezza sfavillante che il loro tempp non potesse finire mai.
Poi ci sono i vecchi, che vanno a trovare i loro morti e raccontano le ultime cose successe, e della salute dei parenti, e di quell'antico amico ora malato, perché i due mondi non sono poi così diversi e lontani, e li consoceremo entrambi.

Studiolum dijo...

Non credere che i posts “vecchi” siano morti: vedi, chiacchierano, mandano messaggi, e, da vecchi schadchen, portano insieme gente sconosciuta.

O se sono morti, tuttavia sono continuamente visitati da gente viva e curiosa di loro, come il portinaio del cimitero di Río Wang – che in questi momenti si potrebbe chiamare anche Río Spoon – cioé il contatore dei visitatori lo dimostra.

Parlando di Spoon River, è da molto che ne vorrei scrivere un post, e non solo del libro ma anche le sue ricezioni da William Willinghton, Fernanda Pivano e Fabrizio de André, acqua del fiume americano filtrata tra sabbia italiana.

Effe dijo...

ottima idea
Verso Spoon River ho un legame afettivo: per me, come per molti altri, è stata insieme a Leaves of Grass e agli eteronimni di Pessoa la via per scoprire la poesia, molte vite fa :-)
Attendo quindi con molto interesse le tue prossime parole

Studiolum dijo...

Allora sicuramente conosci il “Todas as cartas de amor são ridículas…” cantato da Roberto Vecchioni. E' un mio favorito, che per me si racchiude anche l’atmosfera degli anni 70.

Unknown dijo...

this cementery is amazing! i 've trying to find some anthropologist who studies this phenomenon but i couldn't find any of them. You have mentioned you did a master... could yopu recommmend me some anthropologist or ethnologist who has worked on thios topic?
thanks a lot

Studiolum dijo...

My one time master, the anthropologist Ernő Kunt who died some ten years ago was one of the internationally acknowledged authorities in the field of funeral rituals and cemeteries, especially in the Eastern European region. He mostly published in German. If this helps, I can try to localize some of his works.

Studiolum dijo...

Dumneazu has just published a good report on the cemetery, check it here!

Giusy dijo...

AMAZING!!!:)) Thanks so much for your work!

Studiolum dijo...

Thank you for the visit, and check back soon!