majority of Corfiots are Greek Orthodox, following the official
religion of Greece. There is however a percentage of Catholics (4%)
who owe their faith to their origins, mostly families who came from
Malta, but also from Italy and England. The Catholic Archbishopric
was established in Corfu in 1310 by Charles of Anjou, and it has
maintained a constant presence on the island ever since. Today the
Catholic community consists of about 3500 people, (mostly of Maltese
descent) who live almost exclusively in the town, living harmoniously
side-by-side with the Orthodox community. They are much involved
with philanthropic works and are responsible for an extremely well-run
old people's home. Up to 1923 the two communities celebrated Easter
together, but following the adoption of the Gregorian calendar the
celebrations separated as the dates of Easter did not always coincide.
In 1964 the Catholic Bishop made an application to the Holy See
requesting that Easter in Corfu might be celebrated jointly, in
order to avoid family disputes. Approval was granted by the Pope,
and within 2 to 3 years the decision was adopted by the other Catholic
bishoprics of Greece. Exceptionally in Corfu, on the Catholic Easter
Sunday there is a church service for visiting Catholics.
Faith in Saint Spiridon involves many special features with no
equivalent in classic Christianity. A retrospective look at the
historical and social reality of the times will help us understand
the reasons for this great idolatry.
SAINT SPIRIDON, THE SAINT OF THE CORFIOTS
While Saints Jason and Sosipatros, disciples of Saint Paul, first
taught Christianity on the island as early as the 1st century, it
was not until four or five centuries later that people in outlying
areas were converted. But even then, difficult living conditions
did not leave much room for them to assimilate Christian dogmas.
When they learned of the appearance of Saint Spiridon on the island,
and of the miracles he had worked, they started to visit town to
worship him and leave small dedications. Outside the protection
of the town walls, they suffered raids and conquests, and their
hardships made them feel helpless. Only one force stood above all
others, a force which represented their own restricted powers, a
force which could know and understand them and thus could defend
and protect them. Their Saint.
Local faith in Saint Spiridon incorporates the belief that he is
a holy man who really lives in a church in Corfu Town near the people,
and he can see them, can feel their pain, and come to their aid.
He could drive away the Turks, save them from cholera, and bring
them grain to eat, and so today the people offer him gifts of decorated
slippers, that he may walk with them, invisible but all-powerful,
If in the 15th century he was a Cypriot, today he is a Corfiot,
the Saint of the Corfiots. The peasants' daily prayers to him when
the Venetian overlords snatched their bread, when the Turks and
the pirates took their lives, created an intimate relationship like
that of a child and father. They say: 'We have Spiro to look out
for us, and we fear nothing.' Thus a Corfiot is permitted to blaspheme
in the name of the Saint, while a stranger may only pay homage to
Saint Spiridon was born in Tremithous in Cyprus in 270 AD. Son
of a poor family, he had no education and earned his living as a
shepherd. After the death of his beloved wife, he dedicated himself
to the church and eventually rose to be Bishop of Tremithous. He
participated with distinction in the Council of Nicaea in 325, and
during the Maximilian persecutions he was arrested and exiled. He
lived and died in Cyprus, working miracles throughout his life.
When the Saracens took the island, the Cypriots opened his grave
in order to remove his sacred bones to Constantinople. They found
that his body had remained intact, while from the grave emanated
a scent of basil, true signs of the sainthood he had shown during
his lifetime. When Constantinople fell in 1453, a Corfiot elder,
Georgios Kalohairetis, brought him to Corfu, where his three children
acquired the remains of the Saint as an heirloom. The sacred remains
then passed, as the dowry of his daughter Asimina, into the possession
of the Voulgaris family, who placed them in their own private church.
The Saint was transferred to his present church when, during the
fortification of the town, the original church was demolished.
The Çoly Relics of the Saint go out on parade to commemorate
the occasions when he saved the island from various disasters -
deliverances interpreted as miraculous interventions by the Saint.
As a result, he is considered to be the island's Protector, and
his miracles are celebrated with four annual processions