Wednesday, August 15, 2012

A very merry cemetery


In the northern Romanian province of Maramures lies a merry cemetery.  For that is, in fact, its name.  It is a cemetery so merry, my mother and I both wanted to be buried there.


In 1935, a poet and wood carver by the name of Stan Ioan Patras carved his first headstone. Engraved was a rich poem of the newly deceased's life with a pictorial representation. The entire piece was painted in bright colors, with the base color in the village's blue hue of choice.

The headstone was a sensational hit. From that moment until his death in 1977, Patras was commissioned to create headstones for all the freshly departed locals - 800 in total. Since the village was small and no one's life was a secret, no help was needed for the epilogue; meaning he had full artistic liberty to write what he pleased. Nobody knew what to expect. 

Some images reflected one's life. Others reflected how they died. Some eulogies bore straight facts. Others left the reader sorrowful. And a few did just the opposite. 

One headstone, in particular, left the Romanian reader happier than when they came. Each reaction was the same. They'd stop, their eyes would widen, their face would light up and  they'd laugh. Then they'd turn to their partner to see the same reaction. The headstone was dedicated to Patras' mother in law. A wonderful woman, she must have been, and one who's memory will live on forever.

Under this heavy cross
Lays my poor mother in-law
If she would have lived three days more
I would lay, and she would read (this cross).
You, who here are passing by
Not to wake her up please try
Cause' if she comes back home
She'll criticize me more.
But I'll behave so well
That she'll not return from hell.
Stay here, my dear mother in-law!
Before his death, Patras created his own headstone. To this day he remains the only person to have a eulogy written exactly as they wanted to be remembered. For him, it is as a kind man living in a difficult world.

His legend has not died with him, though. For his apprentice has become his predecessor so that the Merry Cemetery can live on.

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