Following the official religion of mainland Greece, Corfu is also predominantly Greek Orthodox. In addition to the Orthodox Church, there are also religious minorities such as Catholics, Protestants, Anglicans, and Jewish followers who hold regular services on the island. This page introduces the main religions on Corfu Island, and provides a brief history Saint Spyridon. This page also discusses the religious traditions and holidays of the Corfiot people.
Visitors take delight in the tallest tower of the old Corfu Town, St Spyridon’s church. This building can be seen all across Corfu town, and was built in 1596. The body of the saint arrived in 1456, and remains in the church today. St Spyridon is taken still carried through the streets during religious processions, and the Corfiot people greatly revere the Saint and the miracles he performed throughout his lifetime. The church was originally decorated with gold-plated wood carved by P. Doxaras, but due to the lack of proper preservation, the decorations had to be replaced. The church is located in the center of Corfu and makes an excellent excursion for a day trip while in the old town. Contact info for Saint Spyridon Church, Old Corfu Town center:
Saint Spyridon church tel : +30 26610 39779 / 33059
Saint Spyridon (270-348) is a honored by both eastern and western Christian cultures. Saint Spyridon was born in Tremithous in Cyprus in 270 AD. As the son of a poor family, he had no formal 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 was an integral part in the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea (325), where he countered the theological arguments of Arius and his followers. However, during the Maximilian persecutions, he was arrested and exiled. He lived the remainder of his life in Cyprus and continued to perform miracles until his death in 348.
When the Saracens took the island, the Cypriots opened his grave in order to remove his sacred bones from Constantinople. As they exhumed the grave, to their surprise they found that his body remained intact, and the scent of basil emanated from him. These were all taken as signs of proof of the sainthood he had exhibited during his lifetime.
When Constantinople fell in 1453, a Corfiot elder brought Spyridon’s remains to Corfu, and when the elder passed away, his three children inherited the remains. The sacred remains were passed down until they eventually were placed in a private church. The Saint was then transferred to his present church, when during the fortification of the town, the original church was demolished.
The locals believe that Spyridon was a holy man, and his presence still remains on the island today. It is believed that Spyridon is watching over the people, experiencing their pain, and protecting them from malady. It is believed the Saint drove away the Turks, saved the people from cholera bringing grain for them to eat. It is because of this that offerings such as decorated slippers are made to St. Spyridon, so that he may walk beside the people as an omnipotent protector. The relic of his right hand now resides in Rome.
The relics of St Spyridon are carried in processions every Palm Sunday and on other special occasions for veneration by the faithful. All Philharmonic bands of Corfu also take part in these ceremonial events.
Spyridon is known as the patron saint of potters and the ‘keeper of the city of Corfu.’ The people of Corfu regard him as the cause of expelling the plague from the island, and believers say that as the plague was being expelled, it scratched one of the fortification stones of the old citadel to indicate its fury. This scratch is shown to visitors to this day.
Recognizing St. Spyridon’s role in the defense of the island, Venice legislated the annual “Litany of St. Spyridon” on August 11th as a commemoration of the event. His feast day is celebrated in the East on the Saturday before Great Lent (known as “Cheesefare Saturday”) and December 12th. For those Eastern Churches which follow the traditional Julian calendar, December 12th falls on December 25th of the modern Gregorian calendar. In the West he is commemorated on December 14th.
The Holy 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.
In April, Palm Sunday is celebrated to commemorate the deliverance of the island in 1630 from the deadly plague. The procession sets out from the Saint’s church at 11:00 a.m. and follows the line of the old town walls, from where the Saint drove the disease out.
Also in April, Easter Sunday is marked by the presence of Saint Spyridon. The second and oldest procession was established in 1550 in order to commemorate relief from the feminine on the island.
On August 11th, the third procession takes place in memory of the deliverance of the island from the Turks after the month-long siege in 1716.
The first Sunday of November marks the fourth procession, and commemorates the Saint’s intervention in 1673 by saving the island from a plague for a second time.
Saint Marina is the patron saint of Benitses village and regular Sunday services are held for those wishing to attend. The church of Saint Marina was built on the banks of the river which used to run through the old village. Although the river has since been diverted, the church still remains in the original location. Additionally, annual festivals are held are at the church where guests have the chance to partake in the local culture of Benitses and its patron saint. A regular Sunday service is held for patrons. For times and directions to the church, please contact the staff from Hotel Bella Vista.
We hope that this page has provided relevant information regarding religion, and religious services of the island. We warmly invite you during your stay here at Bella Vista at Benitses village to partake in the services, or in the many festivals around the island. The religious culture here is something not to be missed. If you have any further questions regarding services, ceremonies, or religious holidays please do not hesitate to contact the staff at Bella Vista Hotel in Corfu for further information.
There are a small percentage of Catholics (4%) followers whose faith is mostly attributed to geographic origins. Families from Malta, Italy, and England all have Catholic roots in Corfu.
The Catholic Archbishopric was established in Corfu in 1310 by Charles of Anjou, and has maintained a constant presence on the island ever since. Today the Catholic community consists of about 3,500 people (mostly of Maltese descent) who live almost exclusively in the town, and live harmoniously with the Orthodox community. This group is greatly involved with philanthropic work, and is also responsible for an extremely well-run retirement home.
The first written testimony of the presence of Jews in Corfu was found in the “Itinerary” of the Spanish Rabbi Benjamin Ben Yonah, who wrote that during his visit to the island of in the 12th century, he met a Jewish dyer named Joseph.Later on, historians noted that in 1267 “numerous Jews lived in the island”. Following a rather tumultuous history, the Jewish people of Corfu built the Scuola Greca Synagogue during the 17th century in the Venetian architectural style. It is the only synagogue remaining on the island of Corfu today, out of three which existed before World War II. It is maintained by the small Jewish Community of Corfu, and is in relatively good condition.
The Jewish Cemetery of Corfu contains tombstones of historical interest. The new cemetery is located in the area called “Cephalomandouko” next to the Catholic cemetery. It has to be noted though that maintenance began in 2002 and have progressed very well. The preservation works have been included in the list of Corfu’s actions in the UNESCO effort.
The island of Corfu was used during the First World War as a British and United States naval base. The Corfu British Cemetery was opened around 1814, and contains some World War I burials, along with other. The cemetery is located to the south of the Old Town on Alexandras Avenue and the property is surrounded by splendid gardens.