A tradition of 400 years (and we almost missed it)

It started with curiosity about the red steeple we viewed from our bedroom window in Corfu. With a google search we discovered it was the Greek Orthodox Church of St Spyridon. (Who?) Another google search informed us that St Spyridon, an early bishop of the church, lived in Cyprus from 270-348. It’s a long story, but over a thousand years later, when the Turks took over Constantinople in 1453, a monk brought his remains to Corfu.   The remains now reside in the same Church of St Spyridon that we see from our window.

A few days later another google search led us to discover that one of the biggest events of the year in Corfu is the procession to honor St Spyridon held every year on the Greek Orthodox Palm Sunday.

We didn’t want to miss it, but we misunderstood a shopkeeper and thought the procession was in the evening. Bells rang on Palm Sunday morning, and we heard the bands playing. Late morning, we took off for our daily walk, down steps, and through the narrow pedestrian lanes of Old Town.   In the distance we saw crowds and knew the procession had started without us!

As we watched the procession, Greek Orthodox priests followed the banner….

…and under the gold canopy was a small windowed box carrying the remains of St Spyridon, who died 1,670 years ago. We couldn’t believe that we arrived at the procession just in time.

However, we were totally confused about the connection of St Spyridon to the tradition of this 400 year-old procession. Here’s the story (again found in a google search): The plague came to Corfu in 1629, and people gathered at the Church of St Spyridon to pray to the saint for his protection. When only 60 people died from plague on the island, Corfiots attributed the miracle to the intercession of St Spyridon. He became the patron saint of the island. The next year, a procession was started on Palm Sunday and has continued every year since to honor the saint.

All 18 philharmonic bands from Corfu participated in the procession.

It appeared from the size of the crowds that most of the townspeople were either in the procession or came out to watch.

The procession passed through many narrow lanes in the old, historic town, before emerging in the large esplanade. We watched as it passed the Palace of St. Michael and St. George.

The end was appropriately at the Church of St Spyridon where participants filed into the church to give thanks.

We had to shake our heads in wonder that we had any doubts about coming to Corfu for a month in “off-season.” The opportunity to have observed the Palm Sunday procession, an enduring tradition of almost 400 years, was a truly memorable travel experience.

One of the last banners returned to the church and that ended the procession for us.



April 2018

About simpletravelourway

Beth and Joe enjoy simple travel.
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10 Responses to A tradition of 400 years (and we almost missed it)

  1. Brenda Bailey says:

    Its still nice to hear from you. love Brenda,

  2. mrpipponders says:

    Many years ago now, and quite by chance because of bad weather at sea, we stopped in Corfu for only a day but St Spyridon smiled on us shortly after we entered the church for a look round because the priests were about to open his casket and we were able to kiss his hand. He is one of the very greatest saints of the Greek Orthodox faith – a Wonderworker – and we have his icon in our hall. In Corfu many boys are named after him! We’re so glad you saw him. Were you there for Easter itself, last Saturday/Sunday (7th/8th)? Pip and the boys

    • Wow! What an amazing day for you on the island! We also bought a St Spyridon icon while we were there. Unfortunately, we had to leave the day before Easter so we missed some of the festivities but were very happy for all we got to see. Don’t you wonder at your luck and ours to get to be part of a special time on the island?

  3. Oh, we used to love watching the processions in Mexico and Central America, especially around Easter. Looks like the whole town participated but how great to watch it without elbowing your way through a crowd. I’d say 400 years is indeed a tradition! Anita

  4. plaidcamper says:

    Looks so lively and colourful – a fun Sunday morning! Thanks for sharing the interesting background to all this (never heard of him before today!)

  5. How lucky! Good old Spyridon must have tapped you on the shoulder and whispered, “Get a move on!” He didn’t want you to miss his party.

  6. A special treat – those are the surprises that really make a stay memorable.

  7. Somehow the abundance of tubas on Palm Sunday in Corfu makes absolute sense. So glad you got to see it!

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