"Merry Cemetery" Paints Pictures of Death

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June 13 2013 7:45 AM

Small-Town Romanian Cemetery Is Filled With Darkly Humorous Graves

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At the Cimitirul Vesel or "Merry Cemetery," over 600 colorful wooden crosses bear the life stories, dirty details, and final moments of the bodies that lie below. Displayed in bright, cheery pictures and annotated with limericks are the stories of almost everyone who has died in the town of Săpânţa. Illustrated crosses depict soldiers being beheaded and a townsperson being hit by a truck. The epigraphs are surprisingly frank and often darkly funny: "Underneath this heavy cross. Lies my mother in law ... Try not to wake her up. For if she comes back home, she’ll bite my head off."

The style of the cemetery comes from local Stan Ioan Pătraş, who at the age of 14 had already begun carving crosses for the local graveyard. By 1935, Pătraş was carving clever and ironic poems—done in a rough local dialect—about the deceased, as well as painting their portraits on the crosses, often depicting the way in which they died. 

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Pătraş died in 1977, having carved his own cross and left his house and his business to his most talented apprentice, Dumitru Pop. Pop has since spent the last three decades continuing the work, and has also turned the house into the merry cemetery's workshop-museum. Despite the occasionally darkly comic, or merely dark, tones of the crosses, Pop says no one has ever complained about his crucifixes:

"It's the real life of a person. If he likes to drink, you say that; if he likes to work, you say that ... There's no hiding in a small town ... The families actually want the true life of the person to be represented on the cross."

More photos of the Merry Cemetery can be seen on Atlas Obscura.

Colorful cemeteries:

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