- News and Current Affairs
- Features and Reports
- Useful information
- Our Shows
- ON DEMAND
The Sapanta tradition started in 1935
Even though death is met with sadness in our culture, in the area of Maramures, in the north, in the village of Sapanta, and back in 1935, a tradition was started, which became the so-called Merry Cemetery. The year 1935 was when the first funny epitaph appeared on a cross, and, since the 1960s, the cemetery is sprinkled with over 800 such crosses, made of oak wood, becoming a veritable open air museum, a tourist attraction. Visitors here may notice that some crosses are painted on both sides. On one side there is a description of the life of the deceased, on the other a description of the cause of death. Most cross inscriptions are badly spelled on purpose, and some are in archaic or dialectal speech.
Today we are at the third generation of traditional craftsmen carrying on the tradition. We were told the story of this craft by Ana-Maria Stan, the daughter of Dumitru Pop-Tincu, who was the apprentice of Stan Ioan Patras, the first creator of these crosses. She is the wife of the one who continues the tradition, Stan Ioan Patras III, grandson to the creator.
“My father was an apprentice to Stan Patras from the age of 9. Then he continued his studies, left for Timisoara, then came back after Stan Patras died in 1977. He then continued, then unfortunately died at 67. Father carried on the tradition as the apprentice to Stan Patras. He loved the village, being a Sapanta local, also working as the apprentice, he got to love the craft and he continued it. Stan Patras, with his crosses, helped us locals to get easier over death, which in the end is part of our lives. For us it is normal. I am young, I grew up with this, and it is the same for all of us locals, it is normal.”
A hypothesis was launched according to which Stan Ioan Patras, who lived between 1908 and 1977, was inspired by the culture of the Dacians, who found death to be a reason for merriment. Aware of the passage of time, local creators all had apprentices. Here is Ana-Maria Stan:
“Father, just like Stan Patras, had 2 daughters. Father, in turn, also had a son, and along the years he trained several apprentices. I got married in 2011, and my husband worked with father. This was not from the start. After we got married he helped around the workshop, and this is how he learned. He has a son, but if anyone else would try to learn the craft, he would teach them.”
We asked Ana-Maria Stan if visitors to the cemetery have a favorite epitaph:
“The most sought after epitaph in the Merry Cemetery is that made by father for his mother-in-law, saying something on the lines of: 'Underneath this heavy cross/ Lies mother-in-law, what a loss/ If she'd lived a week more, blunder/ She'd be reading, I'd be under'.”
The crosses in the Merry Cemetery represent values that can be compared to any great work or creation, witness to a gifted people, with a true creative vocation. The crosses are inspired from everyday life of people, with all its experiences. They reflect the entire life of the departed. The cross is a mirror to the late person, their entire life is on there. The crosses that made the village of Sapanta famous are unique by the blue color they are painted in, but mainly for the funny epitaphs that describe them. They are all written in the local dialect. Dumitru Pop Tincu used to say that, even though he didn't use that old language in real life, he kept strictly to it on the crosses, for the sake of his master teacher.
Ana-Maria Stan, Dumitru Pop Tincu's daughter, told us how the crosses are made, how long it takes, and she invited us in her husband's workshop:
“You can find us here, in Sapanta, in the Ioan Stan Patras Memorial House, where you can visit and see what he did along his life. Also, my father left behind a few paintings, and, of course, the workshop in which we still work. You can see live the way we work, and how a painted cross is built. There are several stages, from the cutting of the wood, into a long strip, which gets dried for about 7 years, and then it takes about 3 to 4 weeks to honor an order. In these parts, we don't put up the cross right when someone dies. The family comes over about a year later to put in the order. After the family does so, depending on the workload, it takes about 3 to 4 weeks.”
The Merry Cemetery in Sapanta, one of the best known places related to Romanian culture and traditions, brings in thousands of tourists every year.
Copyright © . All rights reserved