The cemetery of Balatonudvari

When traveling from east to west along the northern shore of lake Balaton, and just leaving behind the entrance of the peninsula of Tihany, before entering the tiny village of Balatonudvari, you can see to the right a strange cemetery with huge, archaic, white round gravestones, sixty-three by number.

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According to the board next to the entrance, the cemetery was opened in the 1770-80s, and only in 1887 was divided into Calvinist, Catholic and Jewish sections. Among the only three hundred inhabitants of the village there could be not many Jews, as in the latter section, accessible through a separate gate, there is only the tomb of one family. The stone was erected over the tomb of Fülöp Neumann and his wife as well as in the memory of his son, Miksa Neumann and his wife, who perished in Auschwitz, by the sons of the latter. The most unusual feature is the typical military grave-post just posed at the grave, in memory of the brother of the gravestone’s founders, József Neumann, “killed in action at the age of 21”. I wonder in which action could have been he killed in 1931?

The round headstones line up in the oldest, Calvinist section of the cemetery. Their confession is also indicated by the fact that there is no cross on them, only a short, standard inscription with the year of the death, the name of the deceased and the age in which he or she died. Most of the stones were erected between 1810 and 1840. There is only one significant exception among them, the gravestone of the Calvinist teacher János Varga’s wife, who was born at the time of the first fashion of the round gravestones, in 1834, and to whom this archaizing headstone was erected forty years later, in 1876. It is likely that by then already erudite legends hovered around the unusual-shaped tombs, and the teacher, learning at first hand about them, contributed to the revival of the cult and myth of the old stones. This is also indicated by the most unusual inscription “Ave Tourist!” on the stone.

Local tradition, as well as the tourist guides based on it, see these stones heart-shaped. As to why someone would want to erect a heart-shaped tombstone, the Romantic era had obvious explanations. Heart-rending legends, long folk rhymes tell about the stone-cutter setting such stone to his lost lover. The canonical version of this explanation was coined by the lawyer, publicist and popular author Károly Eötvös in his widely read Tour around the Lake Balaton (1900):

There was once in Balatonudvari a poor man. A strange man, an inventive mind, a village handyman. He figured out that tombstones should be carved on the model of the heart. Let it have a leg to be set in the earth at the head of the one laying in the tomb, but what is standing out of the earth, should be just like the human heart. The inscription should be written on that part.

The supporters of the old habits protested. But the strange man did not yield.

– I am right, not you. After all, the dead man’s heart becomes stone. First dust, and then stone. How else would we have this much stone around the village? And later even the heart of the living become stone. Don’t you forget, after all, your dead ones, whether he or she was young or old? Do the living follow the good advices of the dead? Do they follow their good example? They do follow the bad example, but not the good. Would this be possible, if the heart of the living had not become stone? That’s why I say that the tombstone must have the shape of the human heart. This is fitting both to the dead and the living.

He spoke until it was accepted.

He himself carved the headstones. He went up the mountain to look for suitable stone slabs. He found a lot towards the fields of Dörgicse. Then he carved them heart-shaped. Then he carved the name of the dead as well as the year of his or her birth and death on them. He did not even ask for money in turn. He was satisfied with a heartfelt thank you and a glass of wine. Nevertheless, they did pay for his work.

That strange man died long ago. They set a heart-shaped stone at his head as well. It was also carved by him. But since then nobody makes heart-shaped stones. For poor people it would be an unnecessary luxury.

I looked at those tombstones. They are white limestone slabs roughly squared, in no way smoothed. As if no part of them were set in the earth. The heart is standing with the tip on the earth, its two shoulders, double roundup is above. The stone may be two and a half feet high and one and a half feet large at its widest. The heart is shaped like in the popular imagination. Such as they shape it out of honey-cake. As they paint the heart of the Virgin Mary pierced with seven daggers.

None of the stones stands straight. Weather and time has bent them either forward or back. Some are barely visible among the fallen leaves. Everything is barren around them. A dry, desolate, perfect desert. Even the stone rose, even the portulaca is left crippled on it. Only some tiny yellow flower, not higher than an inch, can live at their feet. Only the moss lives around them. Even of this, only that crust-like dry kind. This same moss covers the stones as well. A number of small snails had climbed on the stones, and they remained there, dried on it. The letters of the inscription are clumsy, but stout. I pull out my knife and try to clean the letters. Go away, moss, litter and tiny snails. Let me see who is crumbling there underneath.

Together with my friend we are looking for names, and we find some.

KOZMA. KERKAPOLY. We find a lot of these two names. Whole generations lie here.

It is not proper to argue with so beautiful and profound stories. Therefore, I only quietly note that these stones do not remind me of hearts. But rather of those Baroque cartouches which framed with exactly such curved lines, leaning back in the middle as a heart, the titles of the books on engraved front pages, the crest of the landlord above the gates of the palaces, the titles of the deceased on the epitaphs of the cathedrals.

Eötvös himself notes what he heard of his politician friends Sándor Kozma and Károly Kerkapoly: that their Calvinist ancestors fled from the county town Veszprém to the margins of the county, the shore of the Balaton in the 18th century from the energetic Catholic bishop Márton Biró of Padány. It is quite possible that these large-scale cartouches reminded them of the houses and coats of arms of the Baroque town they had to leave, or that their stone-cutter had learned on such cartouches the most worthy way of framing monumental inscriptions.

The stone cartouches stand side by side in rambling lines, as if they lined the facades of invisible Baroque streets. It is easy to imagine behind them those invisible, but wonderful palaces of which, seen from our side, they are the only visible elements; the fine books whose front pages they frame, and to which Benjamin Franklin refers in his own epitaph:

The Body
of B. Franklin Printer;
Like the Cover of an old Book,
Its Contents torn out,
And stript of its Lettering and Gilding,
Lies here,
Food for Worms.
But the Work shall not be wholly lost:
For it will, as he believ’d, appear once more,
In a new & more perfect Edition,
Corrected and Amended
By the Author.

1 comentario:

Effe dijo...

La tua interpretazione pare più verosimile, ovviamente, e maggiormente simbolica. E pochi luoghi sono più simbolici di un cimitero.
Bellissimo l’epitaffio di Franklin