Saturday, 11 April 2009

Easter in Corfu

Many of you probably have heard that Easter in Corfu is spectacular, busy and cosmopolitan. That's right! Our Easter is one of the best internationally. It draws a huge amount of visitors who come from mainland Greece and from all over the world to see and participate in the local celebrations. Below is a brief description of what celebrations and events take place during the Holy Week in Corfu Town, taken from the Facebook group "EASTER IN CORFU / ΠΑΣΧΑ ΣΤΗΝ ΚΕΡΚΥΡΑ":

"At 11 a.m. on Palm Sunday, with pomp and ceremony, the procession of Saint Spiridon's relic begins. This procession, which is the largest and longest of all our Saints processions was consecrated in 1630, is in memory of the miracle St Spiridon performed to save the town from the plague. Nowadays, the evening before Palm Sunday, a prayer takes place on the rampart of Aghios Athanasios in the old fortress from where the Saint turned the terrible disease away. The traditional dish of this particular day is "stakofisi or cod Bianco", and is served in every household and taverna.

The Holy week in Corfu, just like everywhere in Greece, is dominated by the burial services held in the churches, the Fast and the expectation of the Resurrection. Leaving the town and out to the villages, the blossoming of nature during this spring period, the season of fertilization reaches the peak of its beauty. It is a magical sight for the visitor to experience the fragrances, the colors sparkling in the sun light - the white, the yellow, the purple and the green of the wild flowers, the blue of the sky and the sea combined with the stone of the buildings and monasteries - all this creates an unforgettable picture, a memory that will remain with you for ever. Visit the villages with the Venetian style houses, all newly white-washed for the Easter celebrations and surrounded by the beauty of the flourishing flowerbeds. Find the traditional tavernas with their outdoor seating areas and, under the warm sun, try the delicious Lenten foods washed down with typical Corfiot wine. When the sun sets and the chilly air starts to creep in, visit the local coffee shops where you can enjoy hot Greek coffee and a liqueur, chatting with the locals.

Visit the monasteries of Corfu, talk to the monks and if it is Tuesday of Holy Week, attend the mass which will include the famous Orthodox "Kassianis' Hymn" or if it is Thursday of Holy Week the mass dedicated to the Twelve Apostles. At Ai-Thanasis in Agros village, at Kira-Kokkinada in Lefkimmi village or at any other monastery celebrating the Easter Mass, the direct contact with the spirit during the Passion Week will be felt. Back to the town centre, at Ai Yiannis Church you can hear the chanting of the Mass in Byzantine rhythm or traditional masses are held in the monastery of Aghia Efimia at Mon-Repos, at Platytera Church in Mantouki, at Aghii Theodori in Garitsa and of course at the Metropolis, the Cathedral of Corfu. One characteristic of Easter in Corfu is the sensation of the 4-part chanting, oozing from the churches and filling the "kantounia" (narrow streets amongst the town houses), the homes and the people's hearts. This harmonic chant came from Crete in the 17th century and is known as Cretan music. Wednesday of Holy Week a concert of religious music, performed by the town choir takes place in the municipal theatre, announcing the approach of the Holy Passions through the church music.

Thursday of Holy Week you can attend the mass of the Twelve Apostles in Duomo, the Catholic Cathedral in the Town Hall square, where they light 12 candles in the beginning of the mass and blow one out at the end of the reading of each Apostle. Continuing the customs, on the evening of Thursday of the Holy Week the traditional "Kolombina', (the sweet bread with a red egg on the top) is shared and in each church the ceremony of the Crucifixion begins, the most important religious event of the Holy week.

The morning of Good Friday the ceremony of the "Deposition from the Cross" takes place and at noon of the same day in all churches, the congregation begin to pay their respects to the beautifully adorned floral Epitaph. Early in the afternoon each church, one after the other, starts the funeral procession, criss-crossing the main roads of the town and the Liston. In the suburbs of Garitsa, Anemomilos, San-Rocco and Mandouki as well as at the monasteries of Platytera and Paleokastritsa, the funeral procession takes place with ritual formality and emotion. During the procession of the Epitaphs, displaying the continuation of our cultural inheritance, the "choro" (choir) will chant the well known "E genee pase", the marchers will carry the "skoles" (4-sided banner), the "flamboura" (the remains of Byzantine flags), the enormous candles along with the Venetian lanterns, and the music of the funeral "marchies" (marches) performed by our philharmonic bands, whose golden helmets shine and sparkle in the afternoon sun whilst marching the well-trodden route around Corfu Town. The bands play an extremely important part on this particular day, the "Old Philharmonic Band" (red uniforms) play the Adagio by Albinioni. Followed by the "Mantzaros Band" (blue uniforms) who play the Marcia Funebre by Verdi and the "Kapodistrias Band" (shiny red uniforms) play the Elegia Funebre called Sventura by Mariani and the Funeral March by Chopin. The last procession at 9.45 p.m. is the Epitaph from the Metropolis Cathedral which, in combination with the "volta" (arcades), the beautiful buildings around the Liston and Venetian lamps, the purple cross and "boukes" on the Acropolis of the old fortress, is very emotional and reaches the peak, the climax of splendour.

Early morning of Easter Saturday at 6 a.m., in "Panagia ton Xenon" church the custom of the earthquake is re-enacted in remembrance of the earthquake created after the Resurrection, as described in the Holy Bible. At 9 a.m. the procession of the Epitaph of our Patron Saint begins from Saint Spiridon Church. This procession is the oldest, dating back to 1550 and has been consecrated in memory of His Miracle performed to save the island from starvation. Our bands play the Calde Lacrime by Micchelli, the Amleto by Faccio and the Marcia Funebre from the Heroic Symphony by Beethoven. Make sure that by 10.50 a.m. you are not standing under any windows or balconies. Try to be at "Pentofanaro" or " the Liston" or "Kofineta" to watch the whole custom in all its glory. At exactly 11 a.m. the first Resurrection takes place and is signified with the "botides"(clay pots) being thrown from the windows and balconies when the first "botos" (bell ring) is heard. This noisy custom, first started in Corfu town but has now been extended to the villages, is derived from the Venetians who, on New Year's day, used to throw their old things from the windows in order to receive new ones for the New Year. The Corfiots took this custom and used it to celebrate the most important Greek holiday, the Greek Easter. Nowadays, the old things have been replaced by pots and jugs full of water (this way they make a louder noise when they explode on the ground). Another explanation originates from the custom a pagan derivation. As Easter falls in the beginning of the plantation season, the newly harvested produce from the land was stored in new pots and the old ones were destroyed. After the throwing of the pots, the bands parade around the streets playing joyful marches. Meanwhile at the "Pinia" corner in the centre of town, another custom called "Mastela" is relived. During the week people are asked to throw small coins in a half-barrel decorated with myrtle and ribbons, and after the first Resurrection, that is at 11:00am, someone must dive into the barrel to collect the money. Once upon a time the diver was not a volunteer but an ignorant onlooker who was thrown into the barrel.

In Paxos the first Resurrection takes place traditionally and, as originally, in Aghios Iakovos in Fontana. When the priest says "Jesus is Risen" the believers bang the church chairs and the faithful outside the church attempt to be as noisy as possible using fireworks, fire-crackers, and even guns. In the villages they sacrifice the Easter lambs and with the fresh blood they design a cross above the door for good health, luck and to keep the evil spirits away.

Easter Saturday evening you can attend the Mass in the Catholic Cathedral Duomo where it is a pleasure to hear the organ being played. This Resurrection Mass finishes at 11 p.m. giving time for the faithful to attend the Orthodox celebration also. At 11.40 p.m. the Resurrection procession begins from Aghia Paraskevi Church, in Porta Remounda, and works its way down to the Espianada's "Palko" where at midnight, after the words "Christos Anesti"(Christ has risen) are lit up on the old fortress pinnacle, the spectacle is beyond any expectation. The fireworks display turns night into day, the lighting of thousands of candles in the hands of every man, woman and child, candles lining the buildings and balconies all around the square, the purple cross on the fortress becomes white and the bands begin to play joyful marches. Everyone wishes that this magical moment will never end. Once the fireworks display is over the "burning river of people" begins to wind its way out of the centre as everyone begins to make their way back home, usually to eat Mayiritsa, a soup or dish made from the sheep's intestine, that is traditionally eaten after midnight, after the Resurrection, to break the Fast.

Easter Sunday, early in the morning, a procession leaves from each church with the Resurrection icon and at 11 a.m. the Easter feast in the New fortress begins, organized by the Corfu Naval station. At 6.30 p.m. in Garitsa, the old procession of Aghias Triados Resurrection takes place. In Corfu, in contrast with the mainland traditions, the lamb on the spit is not part of Easter Sunday custom. Easter lunch Corfiot style is soup "avgolemono" with 2-3 different meats. Traditionally lamb on the spit is served on the Monday after Easter. However it is not unusual to see the locals outside the homes or in the fields patiently turning the lamb on the spit, in preparation for the feast ahead.

The week after Easter is called "Nia" New week and these are days of great religious importance with many events happening around the island. On the Monday after Easter each church, after the morning Mass, has a procession carrying the "Flamboura" (flag), the "Exapteriga" and the Cross chanting many Easter-orientated rhythms. The Tuesday after Easter at 5 p.m. there is a special ceremony where the relic of St Spiridon, the Patron Saint of the island is returned to his ornate silver coffin.

Nia Friday, the day of Zoodochou Pigis, great feasts are taking place all around the island with the most well-known being the feast in Paleokastritsa. Also on the Sunday after Easter, the day of Doubting Thomas, there are great celebrations in many of the villages."

Corfu Easter photos:

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