Sapanta’s “Merry Cemetery” is known throughout the world due to the talents of local sculptor, poet and painter Ion Stan Patras. During his lifetime, he created a great number of grave markers which are painted in distinctive “Sapanta Blue” and visually depict the deceased along with an often humorous poem about their lives, habits, personalities and how they died. Ion’s intention was to create a place of celebration for the loved ones. He ended up creating one of the most visited attractions in Romania, as well as a truly unique site in the world.
In the beginning he sculpted about ten crosses a year. The method of work has been preserved unaltered to this day. The oak wood is cut into beams that are then allowed to dry one or two years. Next they are hewn into 10-cm thick planks, 2.20 m long and 30-40 cm wide, ranged in stacks, and allowed to dry for some months more. Then the sculptor begins his work: first he draws the geometrical motifs and the bas-relief dedicated to the deceased, then he sculpts and paints the cross in blue – a symbol of hope and freedom. In 1934, Patras began to scribble an epitaph on the crosses. Usually it is a short poem written in the first person, dotted with archaisms, vernacular phrases and…spelling errors. The sculptor-poet’s source of inspiration is the two-three night wake. The relatives of the dead person do not mourn, but drink and make merry. The entire life of the village is featured in this cemetery. The shepherd, the farmer, the ranger, the wood cutter, or the pupil stand side by eternally, with the weaver, the spinner, the housewife, the merchant, the carpenter, the doctor, the musician or the drunk. This collective memory of Sapanta, this ensemble of colorful graves where each dead person recounts humbly his/her existence with its joys and sorrows, creates a serene and merry atmosphere, a sort of challenge to death, a hymn to life.
The creative spirit of Stan Ioan Patras still hovers over the merry cemetery of Sapanta even if today most of the crosses are concocted by his students. His follower now is Dumitru Pop. Born into a poor family, he studied with Patras since he was nine, and during his holidays he sculpted miniature crosses and frescoes. He went then to a vocational school in Timisoara and returned to Sapanta in 1977, after the death of Stan Ion Patras. Ever since Dumitru Pop has been living and working in the shadow of his master, inhabiting the maestro’s old home.
Very close to Sapanta is the Peri Monastery which has the tallest wooden church in the world, 78 meters tall. It is placed in a very picturesque dendrological garden. The monastery was newly erected on the site of a very old one.