My Country by Marie Queen of Rumania

Nothing is more touchingly picturesque than the village cemeteries: the humbler they are the more do they delight the artist's eye.

Often they are placed round the village church, but sometimes they lie quite apart. I always seek them out, loving to wander through their poetical desolation feeling so far, so far from the noise and haste of our turbulent world.

Certainly these little burial-grounds are not tended and cared for as in tidier lands. The graves are scattered about amidst weeds and nettles, sometimes thistles grow so thickly about the crosses that they half hide them from sight. But in spring-time, before the grass is high, I have found some of them nearly buried in daffodils and irises running riot all over the place. The shadowy crosses look down upon all that wealth of colour as though wondering if God Himself had adorned their forsaken graves.

The Rumanian peasant is averse from any unnecessary effort. What must happen happens, what must fall falls. Therefore, if a cross is broken, why try to set it up again?—let it lie! the grass will cover it, the flowers will cluster in its place.

On Good Friday morning I was roaming through one of these village churchyards. To my astonishment I found that nearly every grave was lighted with a tiny thin taper, the flame of which burnt palely, incapable of vying with the light of the sun. Lying beside these ghostly little lights were broken fragments of pottery filled with smouldering ashes, that sent thin spirals of blue smoke into the tranquil spring air. On this day of mourning the living come to do honour to their dead according to their customs, according to their Faith.

A strange sight indeed! all those wavering little flames amongst the crumbling graves. Often did I find a candle standing on a spot where all vestige of the grave itself had been entirely effaced; but it stood there burning bravely—some one remembering that just beneath that very inch of ground a heart had been laid to rest.

An old woman I found that morning standing quite still beside one of those tapers—a taper so humble and thin that it could scarcely remain upright—but with crossed arms the old mother was watching it, as though silently accomplishing some rite.

Approaching her, I looked to see of what size was the grave she was guarding, but could perceive no grave at all! The yellow little taper was humbly standing beside a bunch of anemones. All that once had been a tomb had long since been trodden into the ground.

The cloth round the old woman's head was white, white as the blossoming cherry-trees that made gay this little garden of God; white were also the flowers that grew beside the old woman's offering of love.

"Who is buried there?" I asked.

"One of my own," was her answer." She was my daughter's little daughter; now she is at rest."

"Why is the grave no more to be seen?" was my next inquiry.

For all answer a shrug of the shoulders, and the dim eyes looked into mine; complete resignation was what I read in their depths.

"What is the use of keeping a grave tidy if the priest of the village allows his oxen to graze about amidst the tombs?"

I looked at her in astonishment. "Could not such disorder be put a stop to?"

Again a shrug of the shoulders. "Who is there to put a stop to it? The cattle must have somewhere to feed!"

I saw that she considered it quite natural, and that which lay beneath the ground could verily be indifferent to those passing hoofs, as long as on Good Friday some one remembered to burn a taper over her heart!

On Good Friday night, long services are celebrated in every church or chapel in the land.

Full of mystical charm are those peasant gatherings round their humble houses of prayer. Men, women, and children flock together, each one bearing a light. Those who find no place within stand outside in patient crowds.

A lovely picture indeed.

From each church window the light streams forth, whilst weird chants float out to those waiting beyond. In front of the sanctuary hundreds of wavering little flames, lighting up the visages of those who, with ecstatic faces, are hearkening for sounds of the service that is being celebrated within.

Custom will have it that, on Good Friday nights, flowers shall be brought by the worshippers—flowers that are reverently laid upon an embroidered effigy of the crucified Christ which is placed on a table in the centre of the church.

Each believer brings what he can: a scrap of green, a branch of blossoms, a handful of hyacinths, making the night sweet with their perfume, or a bunch of simple violets gathered along the wayside—first dear messengers of spring.

When the service is over, in long processions the worshippers return to their homes, one and all carefully shading the tapers, for it is lucky to bring them lighted back to the house.

No more light shines now from the church windows; all is swathed in darkness; the church itself stands out a huge mass of shade against the sky.

But the graveyard beyond is a garden of light! Have all the stars fallen from the heavens to console those lying beneath the sod? or is it only the tiny tapers still bravely burning, burning for the dead? . . .