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The Merry Cemetery (Cimitirul Vesel) in
Sapinta/Sapanta
 (Săpnţa/Săpnţa)
Maramures (Maramureş) County
2001

Browsing through pictures on TrekEarth.com, I found a photo of a cemetery in Wormbach, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, which reminded me of Sapinta.

The oak crosses you see in the Merry Cemetery are in turn carved, painted blue, and further decorated in strong color. Each carries an epitaph and matching scene (sometimes on both sides) about the life of the departed. With their bright colors, naive paintings and simple yet evocative verses, they turn the cemetery into a picturesque place.

What I think also makes this cemetery stand apart from others in the eyes and mind of the visitor is the way each cross finds its way into the crowd as the companion of others. You're not looking at a number of individual crosses, each identified by name only, but almost at a village of the dead, where each person is remembered for his or her participation to the closed living community which is the small village of Sapinta.

When you have strolled in the cemetery for a while, Sapinta, apparently unchanged over 70 years, comes alive, with its barbers, farmers, yarn-spinning women. Simple, ordinary lives of men fond of tuica (plum brandy) or women working in the home are each set apart by specific trades or traits of character.

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The Merry Cemetery is the brainchild of Ioan Stan Patras (Pătraş), who started the tradition in 1935. His work is carried on by Dumitru Pop, Patras's former apprentice. Mr. Pop has continued his studies (including art studies) beyond the two years of schooling Mr. Patras could afford, and now also considers himself a bit of a sculptor.

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Back to Frank's image. If the Merry Cemetery of Sapinta seems to place equal weight on emphasizing similarity and difference -- interviewed, Dumitru Pop put it this way: "Their lives were the same but they want their epitaphs to be different" --, the cemetery in Wormbach, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany, is stunning for the way village people sought to resemble each other in death. A different cemetery, with a different message: "In death all men are equal in the sight of God." No wonder, then, the cemetery of Sapinta is merry: in the sight of the visitor, it speaks about life, and about ordinary life made colorful.

Find out more about the Merry Cemetery in Peter Green's article You'll Die Laughing, if You're Not Already Dead, in The New York Times (May 29, 2002), available on www.RomaniaTourism.com. Updated: January 15, 2006.

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