You usually go to the cemetery to shed a tear, but in Romania you go to have a good laugh.
In the Merry Cemetery of Sãpânta, Romania, visitors come not to venerate the dead, but to giggle at them. They laugh at jokes at the deceased’s expense or at caricatures of the corpses, because every tombstone is painted with funny portraits, off-color jokes, and satirical epitaphs:
Now I will tell you a good one.
I kind of liked the plum brandy,
With my friends at the pub,
I used to forget what I came for.
The Merry Cemetery was founded nearly 90 years ago by artist Stan Ioan Patras. Since 1935, it has stood as proof of the Romanian genius for dark humor, where village creatives publish original verse and illustrations about their cherished dead.
The graveyard looks like an unconventional, 3D comic book, with each page hand-colored and displayed on a different cross. Epitaphs, looking like speech bubbles, are written in the first person as confessions from the after-world. Juicy details reflect the deceased’s bad habits and personal faults. Browse the tombs, and each cross will bless you with a few good laughs in the face of the death.
It’s like therapy: mourners laugh, empathize, and feel like there are people out there (or, down there) who share their issues and problems:
Underneath this heavy cross,
Lies my poor mother-in-law.
You that are passing by,
Try not to wake her up,
For if she comes back home,
She’ll bite my head off.
This light-hearted attitude towards death is a legacy of the ancient, pre-Christian Dacians, who saw death not as an ending, but as an opportunity to meet the god Zalmoxis. Back then, people used to sacrifice a “messenger” to carry their requests to the deity. In the ritual, men held up three spears, and the messenger was flung in the air by his hands and feet, onto the spears. If he died pierced it meant that the divinity would help the Dacians and grant their requests. If not, the messenger was accused as a bad person, unworthy to meet the supreme god.
No worries, this doesn’t happen anymore. After Christianization in Romania, locals are content to wait to meet God through natural causes. As the villagers die, their graveyard comic book adds new lively-colored crosses to its pages, tempting visitors and passersby to stop by, share a laugh, and maybe stay for good. So if you plan on visiting the Merry Cemetery, don’t bring handkerchiefs or flowers with you, just your sense of humour.
Blog post courtesy of Alina Varlanuta
Image Credit: Franz Bauer