The Merry Cemetery

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Joshua Leo and Liz Waid look at an unusual, happy burial place in Romania. How did this place become so happy?

Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight, I’m Liz Waid.

Voice 2

And I’m Joshua Leo. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1

Next to a church, blue crosses stand in long lines. These crosses mark the place where dead people are buried. This may seem like a sad place. But in the distance, you can hear someone laughing. Today’s Spotlight is on the Merry Cemetery in the town of Sapanta, Romania.

Voice 2

A cemetery is a place for dead people. They are buried there when they die. Many European cultures see death as something that is sad and serious. In most places, cemeteries are very serious.

The cemetery of Haworth, in the United Kingdom
Voice 1

Often, cemeteries are places where people come to remember. They remember friends and family members who are no longer living. A stone marks the place where a person is buried. This stone is a headstone or tombstone. Usually, the headstone is made of a dark rock. The headstone may be flat against the ground or it may stand up.

Voice 2

Headstones often have words on them. The words usually tell some information about the person who died. It tells their name. It also tells the dates when the person was born and when the person died. Sometimes, the headstones include a few words about the person’s life, or some religious words.

Voice 1

But the cemetery in Sapanta is not a normal cemetery. You will not find gray headstones made of rock here. And many of the people visiting the Merry Cemetery are not sad. Merry is another word for happy. For some people, this cemetery is a place to be merry. It is a place to be happy, to laugh.

Voice 2

People are happy at the Merry Cemetery because of the special headstones. The headstones are made of wood. They are in the shape of crosses. The crosses are as tall as a person and painted a special color called “Sapanta blue”. The colour blue represents the sky. The Romanian people believe the spirit of a person goes to the sky when he dies. A person carves, or cuts, words and pictures into the wood of the headstone.

Voice 1

These carvings show pictures from the life of the person buried there. They paint the carvings with many beautiful colors. Some of the headstones show the person working at their job or doing another thing he enjoyed. Some headstones show how the person died. The words carved into the headstone read as if the person who died is saying them. Here is an example from one headstone. It is about a man who prepared meat for food. The picture shows the man with a large knife in his hand. He is cutting meat. Here is a translation of the headstone:

Voice 3

As I lived in this world,
I took the skin of many sheep
Good meat I prepared
So you can eat freely
I offer you good fat meat
and to have a good desire for food.

Voice 1

Here are the words from another headstone:

Voice 4

Here lies my mother-in-law.
If she had lived another year,
It would be me lying here.

Voice 2

It does not sound like that man liked his wife’s mother very much! Some of the pictures and writing on the headstones are full of humour like this. The headstones make people smile as they walk through the cemetery. But why did the people in Sapanta start making these different headstones?

Merry Cemetery, Maramures holiday 2011” (CC BY 2.0) by premus
Voice 1

Wood is a very important material to the people in this area of Romania. For thousands of years, people made their homes from wood. They carved pictures and symbols into their homes. Carving wood is an important part of life.

Voice 2

Stan Ioan Patras was a wood carver. He is the man who started the Merry Cemetery. Stan’s job was creating carved wood art. In 1934 he started carving wooden headstones. He made them in the shape of a cross. He painted the crosses bright blue. Over the years, more people in the town started using his beautiful crosses as their headstones. He enjoyed learning about the people in his town. When a person died, he would remember what the person was like. He would make a headstone showing part of the person’s life. He made pictures of local culture and wrote about the person’s life. Stan wrote about the bad things and the good things. The headstones showed what the person’s life was truly like.

Voice 1

In the 1950s, a group of people from France travelled through Stan’s town. They visited the cemetery with his headstones. The travelers enjoyed the cemetery very much. They gave it the name “Merry Cemetery.” In 1971, an art museum invited Stan to France to present his headstones in a special presentation. After that, many people visited the Merry Cemetery. In fact, his headstones made the Merry Cemetery one of the most visited cemeteries in Europe! The United Nations cultural organization, UNESCO, declared the Merry Cemetery to be a World Heritage Site. Now it is part of the world’s history. It is a protected place.

Merry Cemetery” (CC BY 2.0) by Se.By.
Voice 2

People from all over the world still come to Sapanta to see the Merry Cemetery. But today, a man named Dumitru Pop Tincu carves the headstones. Stan was his teacher. Dumitru spends most of his time putting new paint on the old headstones. There are almost 800 carved headstones in the cemetery, so this job takes a lot of time. Dumitru also leads visitors around the cemetery. He says that people like the cemetery so much, that they want their own headstones to look like the ones there. Dumitru makes headstones for the people of the town. But he also makes almost as many headstones for visitors.

Voice 1

Many people think of cemeteries as sad places. But the Merry Cemetery does not make people feel sad. When a person dies, her friends and family do not only mourn her death. They also celebrate her life. The Merry Cemetery uses colourful pictures and poems to celebrate the person’s life. The Merry Cemetery helps all people to remember the joy of life even in the sadness of death.

Voice 2

The writer and producer of this program was Joshua Leo. The voices you heard were from The United States. You can visit Spotlight on the Internet. Our address is There, you can listen to this program again, and read it at the same time. This program is called, “The Merry Cemetery”. The website also has many other Spotlight programs, our word list, more information, and comments from other listeners.

Voice 1

If you have a comment or question about any Spotlight program you can email us at Or you can leave a comment on the script page of the program on our website,

Voice 2

You can also find Spotlight on Facebook and Twitter – just search for spotlightradio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.


Have you ever visited a cemetery? If yes, how did it make you feel? If no, would you want to? Write your answer below.

Join the discussion

  • I had visited cemeteries few times and I could say it’s not a peasent place to be or visit.
    i prefer visiting in other places with more liveable vocies.

  • Please, could you tell me the name of the music in this program, it is so beautiful and I would like listen again.

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