Experiencing Easter in Corfu – Unique Traditions13 Apr, 2017
Easter in Corfu
If you happen to be in Greece for the Easter Holiday, be prepared to experience it like nowhere else. It is a huge religious holiday and the most important in the Greek Orthodox Church. Easter in Corfu however, takes on a whole different meaning. For most Greeks, spending their Easter in Corfu, is at least a once in a life time opportunity.
A unique experience full of meaningful Easter customs
Every Greek island and different areas around mainland Greece have their own customs during Easter and the Holy Week. If you truly want to feel what this week is all about however, you need to visit Corfu. Every year it attracts thousands of people from Greece and abroad. Everyone wants to experience this great roller coaster of emotion and sentiment during Holy Week and there is no other place from which to hop on to this ride, than Corfu.
Spiti Prifti Apartments have the advantage of being located just outside the main city of Corfu. Although we are not open during this time, it is our busiest time in terms of preparations being made for our opening on the 2nd of May.
We will go through the Holy week day by day, so you can get a better idea of each day and its customs.
The Holy week starts on Palm Sunday. The Litany of the ‘Holy Shrine’ starts at ‘Saint Spyridon’ Church, (also the Paitron Saint of Corfu). This is the biggest Litany and follows the entire length of the Venetian city walls. It takes place every year with no exceptions since 1630.It serves as a reminder of the miraculous deliverance of Corfu from the spread of the ‘Deadly Plague’ in 1629. One of the big highlights of this day are the city’s Philharmonics that participate, (otherwise known as the ‘Brass Bands’). It is not just one or two of these Bands, but 18 in total! Making for a spectacular musical crescendo of sights and sounds during the ceremony. Even if you don’t feel particularly ‘Holy’ this week, you cannot help but feel these goosebumps slowing creeping up on you during such majestic music deliverance.
A leisurely walk through the city’s streets is enough to stimulate your taste buds. Traditional Easter cooking starts today. Among the many local delicacies, you can smell the aroma of ‘Foyatsa’ wafting through the air. This is a traditional sweet bread with a red coloured egg usually placed in the middle. A ‘Mandolato’ is also popular during Easter. A delicious almond and honey macaroon. Don’t be fooled though, this is still Lent, so you will need to wait till Easter Sunday to taste some of these delicacies.
Visit a city church to listen to the story of ‘Maria Magdalene’ being told through beautiful Byzantine Hymns. These services are held in the afternoon. Another interesting event that you can participate is the ‘Poetry night’ being held at the Old Palace’s Peristyle. This night’s theme is ‘From Golgotha to Resurrection’ and starts at approximately 21:00.
The Holy Unction takes place in churches today during the morning service. Meanwhile, you can also hear Hymns sung by the Municipal Chorus, taking place at the Municipal Theatre. This starts at approximately 20:30.
This is the day that eggs are dyed Red. A custom deeply routed in the early Christian Era. It symbolises the rebirth of life and nature and the blood of Christ.
No matter which church you decide to visit today, you will hear the 12 Gospels being read. It is the service of the Holy Passion.
An interesting fact to mention here, is that despite the usual differences in dates between the Orthodox and Catholic Easter, the Catholic church participates in today’s ecclesiastical liturgy at the Catholic Cathedral of ‘Duomo’. There are 12 candles that are lit there. One for each of the 12 Gospels. As the Gospels are being read, the candles are put out in a consecutive order. This is a ritual that is unique for the Catholic Cathedral.
Funeral bells will wake you up today. Symbolising the mourning for the death of Jesus, each church will have a slightly distinctive chime. Early on this day, young girls will start decorating the Epitaph with flowers, (with plenty of white, beautiful lilies). The church services commemorate the Descent of Christ from the Cross and this really is the second most important day of the Greek Orthodox Easter. Today’s liturgy is highlighted by the Epitaph being taken out of the church, and accompanied by the chorus and philharmonic. The people follow the Epitaph and walk usually all the way around the church’s perimeter.
You will see people holding lit candles and walk slowly behind the Epitaph. Children will usually hold small colourful lanterns making for a beautiful sight from a distance.
Each Epitaph makes its own, predetermined appearance at a specified time and they all meet at the center of the town. Thousands of candles are lit all along the path each Epitaph takes, marking the route the Holy ceremony will take. The last one to leave church and make its appearance around the streets is the most impressive one. The Epitaph of Corfu Cathedral will exit the church around 10 pm, accompanied by several philharmonics. They each play their own mournful music, adding to the night’s ecstatic ambience.
The ‘Old’ philharmonic, (dressed in red), performs Albinoni’s ‘Adagio’. The ‘Kapodistria’s’ philharmonic plays Mariani’s ‘Elegia Funebre’ and Chopin’s ‘Marche Funèbre’. While the ‘Mantzaros Philharmonic’ performs Verdi’s ‘Marcia Funebre’.
It is certainly a night that will highlight Easter in a very special way!
The events and the customs today is what really makes Easter in Corfu a unique experience. The day starts early at about 06 am. At the church of Virgin Mary ‘Ksenon’ (Virgin Mary of the ‘strangers’), there is a re-enactment of an Earthquake. The very same quake that took place during the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. There are no special effects here of the Hollywood type of course. The custom is relived with ‘sound effects’. People will hold masses of big, red clay pots filled with water, usually on their balconies and terraces. When the first Resurrection is announced at about 11 am, they start throwing them down and on to the empty kept streets directly below them. The sound of hundreds of clay pots being smashed on cobblestone streets at the same time, can surely be deafening and a perfectly symbolic way to emphasise an earthquake.
During this time, people say to each other ‘Christos Anesti’, (Christ has Risen), to which they respond, ‘Alithos’, (he has truly Risen).
The Catholic Church holds the evening mass at 10 pm so that it finishes by 11 pm. The reason for this is that the people attending the Catholic service can also attend the Orthodox, midnight mass, that starts at 11 pm. Both churches have coexisted and celebrated together important Religious holidays. Easter is no exception to this rule.
There are thousands of lit candles and lanterns everywhere you look. The attendees each hold a white candle, symbolising the Christ’s Resurrection which takes place at 12 midnight sharp.
This is accompanied by drum beats and lots of spectacular firework displays, creating a truly ‘Resurrecting Experience’.
The night doesn’t end here of course. After the midnight mass, families gather around their tables for a big feast with great food to cater to everyone’s taste. This consists of lamb meat, ‘Foyatsa’ bread and a specially made soup, so that the stomach can begin to slowly digest the meat, after Lent.
Today is considered a day for family gathering, joyful music, and lots of food. Having attended the church service of Love in the morning, it feels like a great end to a week of ‘Holy’ meaning and mourning. A week of intense emotions. A week of spectacular sights and sounds around the beautiful streets of Corfu town. It is certainly an experience so unique that will stay with you for the rest of your lives.
Easter in Corfu is certainly a unique experience!
Useful Greek phrases for Easter
Christos Anesti –> Christ has Risen
Alithos Anesti –> He has truly Risen
Kalo Pasha –> Happy Easter