Corfu church of Agios Spiridon
Photo: Livia Goulart
Homage to the saint who saved Corfu.
Visitors to the holiday resort of Corfu Town are sure to find themselves admiring the most prominent church of Agios Spiridon with its impressive bell tower.
At certain times of year, holidaymakers may find their view blocked by street processions to Agios Spiridon himself as the bones of patron saint of Corfu are paraded through the streets.
Although he never lived on the island legend has it that the Corfu saint has saved the island from disaster on at least four occasions when locals have prayed for his help.
The saint's bones were carried to Corfu from Constantinople at the end of the seventh century when Ottoman Turks threatened to lay siege to the great city.
The church that bears his name was constructed in 1589 after visions of the holy man were said to have appeared to captains of passing sailing ships, appealing to them to change course and head for Corfu.
As the ships were full of grain and the island was suffering from a famine, their arrival in the port at Kerkyra was considered a miracle. The ending of the famine is now celebrated with a procession through the town on Easter Saturday.
This miracle may have been in the minds of the good folk of Corfu when they prayed for an end to deadly plagues that swept the island in 1630 and in 1673. In any event, the saint is credited with delivering the population as both plagues subsided after prayers.
As a result there are two more processions to Agios Spiridon. on Palm Sunday in the spring and on the first Sunday in November.
A silver casket was made in 1867 in Vienna and delivered to Corfu to house the saint's bones and the casket is borne aloft during the processions along prescribed routes through the holiday town.
But the homage to the revered man doesn't end there. In August there is yet another parade to celebrate the end of an Ottoman siege of the island in 1716.
The saint is reputed to have appeared before the invaders at the head of a heavenly army, flashing a mighty sword and frightening them all off.
The church of Agios Spiridon is well worth a visit even if you happen to miss one of the street processions in his honour.
It is a beautiful building set in the heart of Corfu Town and modelled on the church of San Giorgio dei Greci (Saint George the Greek) in Venice.
The red-domed bell tower is the tallest in town so it is very hard to miss. The interior of the church has some very good paintings and frescoes as well as a good collection of ancient Greek icons.
If ever you are on holiday on Corfu, a visit to the church should be on your itinerary and if you can make it for one of the street parades to the saint then all the better.