The celebration of Easter in Corfu is a unique experience, completely different from anywhere else in Greece and particularly impressive for first-time visitors to the island. It is a huge festival, in which various components come together harmoniously, the Orthodox Christian faith, pagan traditions, the powerful presence of Saint Spiridon, the Roman Catholic community, the Venetian influence, genuine Corfiot humour, the music of the philharmonic bands and of course the spring atmosphere
Palm Sunday is the day when the deliverance of Corfu from the plague in 1630, thanks to the intervention of Saint Spiridon, is celebrated. The Body of the Saint is taken in procession around the streets of the town, accompanied by all the island's philharmonic orchestras. The procession sets off from the Saint's Church at 11 in the morning and follows the line of the old town walls, from where the Saint drove off the plague. People from all over the island pour into town, lending a festive feel to the day. At midday, in homes and tavernas, the traditional dish of the day is served - stockfish or salt cod.
Holy Week throughout Greece is characterised by its church services,
by fasting, and by the anticipation of the Resurrection.We recommend
that during Holy Week you leave the town and venture out to the
villages. Wander in the countryside, that is moving into spring
and the season of fertility and renewal, and enjoy its perfumes.
After the dullness of winter, with its rains and cold weather,
the sunlight underscores the fresh colours of nature. The white,
yellow, mauve and green of the wild flowers, the blue of the sky
and the sea, form a backdrop to the grey stone walls of the monasteries
with their westernized wall-frescoes.Visit villages with Venetian
houses, with pristine courtyards full of blooming potted plants.
Discover little tabernas which have set their tables out in the
sun, to sample the tasty Lenten food and the local wine which
is at its best. And as soon as the sun has set, head for the local
cafe, where you can try Greek coffee or a sweet liqueur in the
company of the locals.If it is Holy Tuesday, you will hear the
Hymn of Kassianis, if it is Holy Thursday then the service of
the Twelve Gospels is taking place in the monasteries. At
Agios Athanasios at Agros, at the Lady of Kokkinada at Lefkimmi,
and at whichever monastery is still functioning, you will enjoy
direct contact with the essence and soul of Holy Week. If, however,
you decide to stay in town, bear in mind that the Church of Agios
Ioannis (John the Baptist) in the 'Square of the Saint' celebrates
with Byzantine hymns, while the Monastery of Agia Evfimia beside
Mon Repos has the finest tradition of services, together with
the Platytera Monastery at Mandouki, Agii Theodori in Garitsa,
and of course the Cathedral. The most singular feature of Easter
in Corfu is the moving choral church music which overflows from
the places of worship and spills into the alleyways of the town,
on to the rooftops of the villages, out into the courtyards of
the monasteries. This harmonious chanting, basically a form of
four-voice choir, came from Crete during the 17th century, and
is known as 'Cretan music'.
On Holy Wednesday the Municipal Choir gives a concert of ecclesiastical music at the Municipal Theatre. This tradition was established in 1989 with the aim of approaching the Holy Drama through the music of both the Eastern and the Western Church.
A nice idea for Holy Thursday might be to attend the Service of
the Twelve Gospels at the Duomo, the Catholic Cathedral in the
Town Hall Square, where they light twelve candles and extinguish
them one by one as the reading of each gospel is completed.
One custom which today has disappeared is that of Holy Thursday,
which was preserved by women in the countryside until recently.
The women would attend the church service, and while the priest
was chanting the ritual of the Twelve Apostles, they would knit
a piece of thread with their fingers. They would place the little
charm thus made around the wrist of a baby to ensure that God
would protect it.
Good Friday is the day of the Epitaphios, the funeral of Christ.
All over the island, as all over Greece, every church brings out
its own funeral bier and parades it around the parish. In Corfu
however, the attendant philharmonic orchestras and choirs, the
presence of thousands of Corfiots as well as foreign visitors,
give another dimension to the gravity of the occasion. It is worth
noting that the Old Philharmonic Orchestra (in red uniform) play
Albinoni's 'Adagio', the Mantzaros Orchestra (in blue) Verdi's
'Marcia Funebre', and the Kapodistrias Orchestra the 'Elegia Funebre',
Mariana's 'Sventura' and Chopin's 'Funeral March'. The town processions
start in the afternoon to give the orchestras time to escort them
all. As the hours pass, the processions become thicker on the
ground, until they all converge on each other and people don't
know which way to look first. The first epitaphios leaves the
Church of the Blessed Virgin of Spiliotissa in the New Fortress
and the Church of Pantokrator in Kampielo at two in the afternoon,
and other churches follow, until ten in the evening sees the exit
of the Epitaphios from the Orthodox Cathedral.