With a touch of irony our last stop in Romania was the cemetery at Săpânţa; but no ordinary cemetery is this. Overlooked by the church, blanketed in wooden scaffolding during our visit, it is a place not of sadness and mourning but a celebration of lives lived and, continuing the belief of the ancient Dacian culture, where death is merely the beginning of a new life for the immortal soul. Covered in flowers and set against a backdrop of wooded hillsides Cimitirul Vesel, the Merry Cemetery, is a blaze of colour with a forest of sky blue crosses carved with portraits of the deceased, scenes of their life and amusing or satirical epitaphs. It all began in 1935 with the work of the local folk artist, Stan Ioan Pătraş, a sculptor, painter and poet who, in wanting to create a place of celebration, ended up creating a most unusual tourist attraction and a boon to the local economy. Before his death in 1977 Pătraş also created his own grave carvings which mark the site of his burial near the front of the church. There are now more than 800 memorials and his apprentice, Dumitru Pop Tincu, maintains the old as well as producing the new. The entire life of the village is preserved here and, with inscriptions written in the first person, the collective memory and the unflinching life stories told from beyond the grave, create a truly fascinating place. Unable to translate the text we explored this three dimensional picture book creating stories of our own.
(All images are copyright to Noeline Smith)