EASTER ON CORFU
If there is a time of year when it is particularly worth visiting Corfu, it is definitely Easter time. In no other part of Greece – neither city nor village – do local people herald the event and create the atmosphere of intensity as they do here. The numerous churches of the island create a religious ceremony that is unparalleled in present times.
Easter begins here, as in other places, on Palm Sunday. The solemn procession of the holy relics of Saint Spyridon occurs at 11 o’clock in the morning. A custom since 1630, it is carried out in commemoration of the island’s deliverance from the spread of the deadly plague of 1629 which had taken the lives of many citizens of Corfu. All fifteen philharmonic orchestras of the island participate in this procession.
On Holy Thursday, Corfu enters the final stage of the Holy Week events. People fill the churches and with deep devotion experience the culmination of the divine drama - the Crucifixion. At Pinia – the commercial centre of the old city - and on nearby streets, the bands have their final rehearsals. It is the tradition of Holy Thursday for women of all ages to remain at church after the service in order to decorate the Epitaph. The Epitaph processions begin early, in order to allow enough time for the philharmonic orchestras to play alongside each one. At midday, around 2:30, the Epitaph procession from the church of St. Nicholas of Faliraki sets out. At 4:00 the procession from the chapel of St George at the city’s old citadel (Palaio Frourio) commences, passing through the main streets of Corfu and Liston. As time goes on, the number of Epitaphs multiplies and in the end many of them meet at different points in the city.
HOLY SATURDAY – THE RESURRECTION
At the dawn of Holy Saturday (6:00am), the artificial “earthquake” custom is observed at the church of the Virgin Mary of “Xenon”, where church-goers stamp their feet on the floor of the church, as a reenactment of the earthquake that is described in the Gospel as a consequential triumphal event of the Resurrection of Christ. Three hours later, the procession of the holy relics of St. Spyridon begins, at the same time as the procession of the chapel’s Epitaph.
Following this is the breaking of the pots (clay bowls). From the windows and balconies of the houses, thousands of clay pots of all sizes, full of water, are dropped on the streets, smashing noisily. Multitudes of people gather on the streets to watch the event. It is considered to be good luck for a visitor to take a piece of a shattered pot.
The Resurrection service on the night of Holy Saturday occurs at Spaniada Square with the participation of thousands of "believers". If you have the good fortune of being able to watch the ritual from somewhere up high (i.e. from a building in the neighbouring square), you will have the privilege of beholding an amazing sight: thousands of small, trembling flames light up the entire square and the streets surrounding it, and the fireworks being set off from the citadel marking the Resurrection of Christ create an exciting display.
In the echoing din, the band begins its ceremonial hymns, canons sound from the old citadel, fireworks light up the sky and the bells ring out creating a scene reminiscent of a Hollywood movie. This is a truly magical scene which cannot be understood unless you experience it.
The celebrations at Easter on Corfu provide a completely different experience compared to the rest of Greece and is an unprecedented experience for visitors to the island. This can only be the case for a celebration created by so many: the Greek Orthodox religion, pagan tradition, the presence of St. Spyridon, the Catholic Community, the Venetian influence, the well-known Corfiot humour, the music of numerous philharmonic orchestras and the spring air.