But on two of our days in Maramureş, in spite of this persistent optimal opportunity to dry and stack the hay and in spite of the apparently tireless energy of those who did the work, the fields were abandoned, first to observe the feast day of Santa Cruz (Sfânta Cruce) and then for the usual Sunday of rest. Piety trumped the practical imperative to make hay while the sun shone. Ana told us a local legend on the price of non-observance. A farmer who made hay on Saint Peter’s Day saw his stacks turned to stone, and Ana showed us the proof: two cottage-sized rock formations on a hillside above Şurdeşti . So we too observed the feast of Santa Cruz, our own home town. And on Sunday we went to an Orthodox mass in an unorthodox, open-sided chapel above the Biserica of Sârbi. From here, during the moving but interminable and incomprehensible service, I could watch and worship, for several hours, the sun continuing its work alone in the half-cut hayfields across the valley.
We used the days of rest to make pilgrimages to several of the magnificent wooden churches for which this region is justifiably famous. Indeed the few foreign tourists we saw, while evidently indifferent to the holy hay, traveled from one biserica to another, admiring the remarkable carpentry and carving: soaring spires; delicately interwoven shingles on steeply graceful roofs; massively interlocked beams and tiny windows; and sculpted gateways profusely decorated with Christian and pagan elements.
The interiors were equally astonishing: rich in local rugs and tapestries; icons on glass; walls covered with narrative paintings on Biblical themes, often including lurid Last Judgment murals, with devils harrowing the damned, usually with scythes, sometimes with hay-rakes.
For further reading on the wooden churches of Maramureş:
Ana Barca and Dan Dinescu. The wooden architecture of Maramureş. Bucharest: Humanitas, 1997. Many of the images in this handsomely designed book on the vernacular church and farm architecture of Maramures deliberately pose the less durable but equally iconic hay structures nearby, either as hill-covering patterns or as ephemeral shapes in graveyards and farmyards. Regrettably the captions rarely identify the locations and dates of the photographs, and so the reader can only assume that the stacks are everywhere during every season. Hard to find and expensive to buy. Fortunately, selections of text and illustration are online. Joby Patterson's Wooden churches of the Carpathians: a comparative study. Boulder, CO: East European Monographs, 2001, is more modest in scope and size than David Buxton’s magisterial The wooden churches of eastern Europe (Cambridge, 1981), but her monograph is nevertheless very valuable, especially since it covers the Maramureş region on both the Romanian and Ukrainian sides of the River Tisza boundary.
Crosses and carvings.
Here are some examples of the crosses and the carved wooden porches and gateways which mark the entrances to every churchyard and traditional farmyard.
Woodcarving, carpet weaving: Toader Barsan, Barsana and Roxie the priest's daughter of Botiza.
Making hay in graveyards: Sighet.
The graveyards of Maramureş, crowded with ancient, indecipherable headstones, often had enough space for small hayfields, and the stones and stacks, so different in their functions, seemed companionable and complementary in form. Two cemeteries were particularly striking. Close to the center of Sighet, a large field surrounded by high walls is the site of an ancient Jewish graveyard. Only half of it is occupied by headstones. Thousands of Sighet Jews expected to use the rest died elsewhere in the 1940s. Hay, of course, is grown on the ground they would have occupied.
Making hay in the Merry Cemetery of Săpânţa.
A few miles to the west, along the River Tisza, we visited the more famous and much more cheerful cemetery at Săpânţa, where each grave is marked by an elaborately carved and brightly painted monument, illustrating the lives of those who lie there with light-hearted verses and a picture of their favorite activities. Not surprisingly, the various stages of hay-making were well represented in these paintings, the men usually with scythes and the women with rakes, often with descriptive backgrounds of windrows, cocks, or stacks. One depicted a sopron, the local hayshed, clearly enough to show peg-holes in the posts. At the edge of the picture gallery of this so-called Merry Cemetery, a real woman was raking real hay.