The Merry Cemetery

The blue crosses that adorn the graves in Cimitrul Vesel are there because of one man’s vision, Stan Ioan Patras. Cimitrul Vesel, which translates as Merry Cemetery, lies behind the Church of the Assumption and has put Sapanta, Romania on the map, it being one of the most popular tourist attractions in Romania.

Photo Credit J.L.Cobb

Stan Ioan started carving wood crosses in the 1930’s and continued until his death in 1977. During that time he carved and painted several hundred blue crosses for those who had passed in his village. The approach was that through artistry and stories he could bring a smile to those who visited and also share the lives of those who lived in the village, thus the Merry Cemetery. Each cross is unique and beautifully painted with brilliant colors, predominantly blue symbolizing heaven and freedom, and include a themed painting and poem that discloses a little something about the life and character of the deceased. Some of the poems and paintings are a bit whimsical, many depict occupations, traits or life events and some even tell of lives that were tragically cut short, stating the illness or accident. When someone in the village died the family would come to Stan and ask him to create a blue cross. He would decide how to sculpt it, what the painting would portray and the verse for the poem that was always written in first person narrative.

As Stan got older, space was reserved in the cemetery and he created his own blue cross, painting and poem and was buried here when that time came. Here is the translation:

“Ever since I was a little boy
Stan Ioan Patras was my name
Listen to me, my good people
Because I will tell no lie
For as long as I lived
I never wished anyone harm,
Only good, as much as I could
No matter for whom
Oh this poor old world of mine
Living through it was so hard”

The tradition continues today under Stan’s apprentice, Dumitru Pop, who works in Stan’s former workshop. Over 800 blue crosses decorate and tell the stories of the lives of the villagers in this cemetery. We’d like to visit those buried in the Merry Cemetery, celebrate their lives, the beautiful artistry and folk culture from Sapanta, in the mountainous Maramures region of northern Romania.

One comment

  1. Thank you for this post! A most interesting and admirable tradition. Don’t know as I’ll ever get to Romania but if I do I will visit this cemetery!

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