The parallel dimension

In May 2016 Olena and I went to Romania. During the trip we stopped at Săpânţa village in the north of the country (Maramureș) that dazzled us by two architectural surprises. The Church of the Nativity and the Merry Cemetery – an open-air museum and a national tourist center that have been popular among travelers for ages. But we decided to attend these places not as sights, but to explore their architectural value.

The peculiarity of the Merry Cemetery (rom. Cimitirul Vesel) is bright colorful tombstones with atypical drawings and poetic lines telling about deceased’s activities and death causes. The first colored crosses, painted in the naive art style, appeared in the village in 1935. The author of the original idea was the local artist Jon Petrash.

Today there are about 900 tombstones at the Merry Cemetery. Farmers still continue to order funny epitaphs and ornaments for deceased relatives. This is the weirdest cemetery I’ve ever seen, but I didn’t want to take this only as a tourist sight. Bright crosses sometimes are conveying rather philosophical thoughts than only ironic messages. Combining with the atmosphere around, Merry Cemetery may consider as a modern art conceptual work.

There is the Church of the Nativity located near the cemetery. I was being haunted by the feeling of attractiveness looking at it (perhaps, I’ve lost the orientation in space and time). The Church of the Nativity is a very strange place that is difficult to associate with the Orthodox tradition. Actually, all the decoration methods and materials used are rather reminded about Romani’s people world outlook and balanced on a fine line of the kitsch art. It seems like all of the interior and exterior church’s fragments didn’t match the composition. Probably, a certain attraction was the only one united thing. Accustomed to the golden glow of Orthodox churches, I was struck of this burlesque.

At that moment church was being rebuilt so it’s timeless look became even more cosmic. The usual basilica of the church was transformed into some kind of a fantasy – it looked like a portal to other worlds. Such decoration would be more suitable in Hogwarts rather than in Maramures, with stirring and sometimes worn-out wooden spires of the churches.

Generally, the church building as attraction is an interesting topic. I suppose the same attraction could be, for example, Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, architected mainly by the innovator Antoni Gaudi. Anyway, the Catalan cathedral’s composition is united at least by a logic of spatial decisions and shape development. In our case, it was extremely difficult to recognize any uniting factors.

The special attention was drawn to the colorful mosaic fragments that seem to have been coming up from nowhere. Such decoration is typical neither for Maramureș nor for Bukovina. How it appeared here is a puzzle for many generations of architects.

Another difference between the local church and a traditional Orthodox church is the explosion of colors under the roof outside, which is visible from afar. This decoration is not similar to usual “golden domes” and overall architecture of Orthodox culture. However, local Romanians suppose a church should look just like this.

Coming inside the church and looking up, we saw the Romanian folk icons arranged in the incredible fantasy patchwork. This picture, being bright and eloquent, was an epilog to the wonderful Romanian tale that accompanied us the whole day.

Later, I got to know that there was a person who performed this reconstruction. This fact was the most incomprehensible for me. Basically, I was ready to accept this object as the boisterous manifestation of Romani art, so there was at least some ground for spontaneous creativity. But there was nothing common between the church and my profession. However, now I know what the attraction, unburdened by messages, looks like.

Previous Post Next Post

All Posts

Similar posts