The fascinating wonders of the European Spoon River

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Sapanta Merry Cemetery

Nested among high peaks and green valleys in Northern Romania, near the Ukrainian border, lies the tiny village of Săpânța

It’s an ordinary village, close to the river, with the main road passing through. Like every ordinary village, also Săpânța has a cemetery.

The European Spoon River

 But it’s not an ordinary one. Think of it as the European Spoon River

Sapanta Merry Cemetery Forest of crosses

In Săpânța the whole scene looks much different than a usual cemetery. Under wooden crosses painted in a characteristic bright blue, the departed past life is engraved with a humorous epitaph, a brief but poetically sincere story of the villager lying below, pointing out especially on his/her character flaws or dirty secrets.

Underneath this heavy cross

Lies my mother in law poor

Had she lived three days more

I’d be here and she would read

You that are passing by

Try not to wake her up

For she comes back home

She’ll bite my head off

But I’ll act in the way

That she will not return

Stay here my dear

Mother-in-law.

Sapanta Merry Cemetery Recent grave by Dumitru Pop
The story

This original graveyard sprung off just before the blasting of WWII, when a local carpenter, Stan Ioan Patras, started building those colourful and humorous tombstones.

At the times, the funerals lasted three days. All the villagers would gather and tell stories about the deceased. From these stories, Patras took inspiration for the epitaphs.

As I lived in this world,

I skinned many sheep

Good meat I prepared

So you can eat freely,

I offer you good fat meat

And to have a good appetite.

Ioan Toaderu loved horses, but, he

says from beyond the grave:

One more thing I loved very much,

To sit at a table in a bar

Next to someone else’s wife.

UNESCO World Heritage Protected Site

Slowly the fame of the merry cemetery transcended the boundaries of Maramures, the region it belongs to. Today the area belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Protected Sites.

Stan Ioan Patras continued to work on his creations for 40 years and more than 800 tombstones and limericks, until his death, in 1977.

He even wrote his own epitaph.

Since I was a little boy
I was known as Stan Ion Pătraş
Listen to me, fellows
There are no lies in what I am going to say

All along my life
I meant no harm to anyone
But did good as much as I could
To anyone who asked

Oh, my poor World
Because It was hard living in it

The European Spoon River - Sapanta Merry Cemetery
The disciple

Like any other master or innovator, Mr Patras had a disciple. Dimitru Pop continued this tradition in painting and engraving tombstones for the deceased of the village.

This way, the graveyard has become the tale of its own inhabitants. There is probably more history among those tombstones than in many little regional museums.

That’s the European Spoon River. A place where you have under your eyes – with poetry and tenderness – the life of a rural small town of Central Europe.

Here I rest. 
Stefan is my name.
As long as I lived, I liked to drink.
When my wife left me,
I drank because I was sad.
Then I drank more
to make me happy.
So, it wasn’t so bad
that my wife left me,
Because I got to drink
with my friends.
I drank a lot,
and now, I’m still thirsty.
So you who come
to my resting place,
Leave a little wine here.

The European Spoon River - Sapanta Merry Cemetery

But there is a great difference! The Spoon River Anthology is poetic fiction, the result of Edgar Lee Masters imagination, while the Merry Cemetery of Săpânța is real. What you find there is the poetry of real life.

The European Spoon River - Sapanta Merry Cemetery

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