Easter in Corfu – Customs and Traditions, Greece

Easter in Corfu is a complex mixture of Venetian and Orthodox religious traditions with influences from Venetian standards and local cultural characteristics. Since the Venetian times Easter has been celebrated by the Orthodox and Catholic Churches.

The customs in Corfu related to Easter start from the Saturday of Lazarus. Every year on the eve of Lazarus Saturday, after sunset in the village of Episkepsi in northern Corfu, the local choir and a crowd of people sing the “Carols of Lazarus” in all the neighborhoods of the village, while the housewives treat locals to Lenten delicacies and local red wine.

On Saturday morning, after the liturgy celebrated in the Church of San Nicolo dei Vecchi, which is located in the old town of Corfu in the area of “Kabielo”, at 11.30 in the morning, choir groups of the island start a musical tour in various parts of the historical centre of the city, singing the “Carols of Lazarus”. Their final meeting takes place at “San Giaccomo”, the old Town Hall of the city. This event is organised by the “Corfiot Expression Society”.

The carols tell the whole story of the Resurrection of Lazarus and are sung in the Corfiot dialect.

On Saturday afternoon, at the Municipal Theatre of Corfu, it is customary to hold a concert of religious music, by the Corfu Municipal Choir “San Giacomo” in collaboration with the Symphony Orchestra of the “Philharmonic Orchestra of Corfu”.

Traditional Corfu Easter, Passover In Greece, Corfiot Culture

Palm Sunday – Litany of Saint Spyridon

Palm Sunday in Corfu is called the “Sunday of Vagione”. Every year at 11.00 in the morning a procession of the Shrine of St. Spyridon takes place in memory of the relief of the island from the plague epidemic in 1630. According to Christian religious tradition, on Palm Sunday 1630, after the miraculous intervention of Saint Spyridon, the island was saved from the deadly plague. Since then, the Corfiots, attributing the rescue of the island to a miracle of the Saint, hold a great litany in his honour every year.

This is the longest procession of the Saint. The Shrine wanders along the old Venetian walls of the city, making several stops for prayers and supplications.

The 18 Philharmonic Orchestras of Corfu participate in the procession and parade after the end of the procession in the Old Town of the island playing joyful marches.

 

Good Monday – “Fogatses” & “Colobines”

On the Good Monday the housewives of Corfu start the preparation of the traditional Corfiot brioches, “fogatses” and “kolobines”.

Fogatsa is a traditional Corfiot brioche of Venetian origin and is called the “Easter bread of Corfu”. It has a round shape and is based on a Venetian recipe. The ingredients are the same as those of a simple brioche, except that the recipe adds liqueur from the traditional Corfiot kumquat and bits of spoon sweet.

Colobines are made from the same materials but are made in the shape of a braid and decorated with a red egg and a feather. It is a recipe influenced by the Venetians who used to make a dove-shaped cake at Easter.

Every year on Holy Monday, the Municipal Theatre of Corfu hosts a concert of the Philharmonic Orchestra “Mantzaros” with works inspired by the Holy Passion of religious music.

Good Tuesday – Kassianis Troparion & Musical Poetry Evening

On Good Tuesday, the “troparion of Kassianis” is sung in the churches and in the open air by choirs of the island. On the evening of Tuesday, the Corfu Events Organization organizes every year at the Pavilion of the Old Palace a Musical Poetry Evening.

Traditional Corfu Easter, Passover In Greece, Corfiot Culture

Good Wednesday – The Lanterns of the City in Purple

On Good Wednesday, the lanterns in the streets of the city, the Liston and the Palace are illuminated in purple, as is the cross in the Old Fortress of the city, to emphasize the sadness caused by the Holy Passion.

After the end of the Holy Communion in the churches, a concert of Ecclesiastical Music and Great Week melodies by the Municipal Choir takes place in the Municipal Theatre.

Maundy Thursday – The ritual of the laver and the knitting of the “Gaitaniou”

On Maundy Thursday in the Catholic Cathedral “Duomo”, the re-enactment of the washing of the feet of the Apostles by Jesus takes place. According to religious tradition, Jesus washed the feet of his 12 disciples. This revival is called the ‘Rite of the Washing of the Feet’ and is represented by the Catholic Archbishop washing the feet of 12 believers.

During the ceremony of the Holy Passion, the custom of knitting the ” Gaitaniou ” is revived in villages of the island. The custom takes place inside the church. The women knit the gaitani, which is a braided string of silk threads, with a crochet loom. The knitting is done whenever the Gospel is recited.

Good Friday – Procession of the 33 Epitaphs from noon to night

On Good Friday from 2 pm the procession of the epitaphs starts in the cantoons and squares of the city and lasts until 10 pm when the procession of the Epitaph of the Metropolis will begin. There are 33 epitaphs, as many as the years of Christ.

Each Epitaph is accompanied by a choir, a Philharmonic, large candles “torches”, candelabras and tall lavaras and flambours “scoles”. They are also accompanied by schools, scouts, guides and Red Cross girls.

The Epitaph of the Metropolis is accompanied by the Holy Clergy and the local Authorities, all the Philharmonic Societies of Corfu, playing mournful marches, choirs and thousands of visitors of the island and locals.

Easter, Corfu…! The best time to visit…

Traditional Corfu Easter, Passover In Greece, Corfiot Culture

GOOD SABBATH – CLIMAX OF EVENTS

Good Saturday – Earthquake & First Resurrection

Early in the morning of Holy Saturday, at 6.00 am, in the Holy Church of Panagia Xenon, the custom of the earthquake is revived, which is caused by the noise and shaking of all the icons and candles of the church. The faithful strike the pews in order to cause an artificial earthquake and recreate the earthquake that followed the resurrection of Jesus, according to the Bible.

Litany of Saint Spyridon

At 9 am from the Church of Agios Spyridon begins the litany of the Saint, which was established in 1550, when Corfu was saved from starvation. At the same time the procession of the Epitaph takes place, unlike in the rest of Greece, where the epitaphs come out on Good Friday. It is a custom that has been preserved since 1574. The Venetians, for security reasons, forbade the Orthodox from carrying the epitaphs on Good Friday.  They only allowed the procession of the Saint on Holy Saturday. The Corfiots since then, take out the Epitaph of the church of Agios Spyridon along with the Shrine of the Saint. The procession is followed by the three major Philharmonic Orchestras of Corfu Town.

The breaking of the “Botis”

At 11 o’clock in the morning, at the signal of the first Resurrection and when the Metropolitan chants “Anastas, O God, judge the earth”, the bells of all the churches of the city ring joyfully and the inhabitants from their balconies or windows throw their boots. The botedes are clay jugs, full of water, with a narrow spout and two handles on the side, tied with red ribbons. The balconies and windows are decorated with a red cloth.

It is a custom that is celebrated only in Corfu and has roots from the Venetian years of the occupation of the island.  The Venetian Catholics at that time used to break the old pitchers on New Year’s Day, as a “tribute” to the New Year, in order to bring new goods to their household. The Orthodox Corfiots adopted the custom and moved it to Easter, which the Venetians allowed them to celebrate only at noon.

 

The breaking of the canals symbolizes the removal of bad luck, so to this day the pieces of the broken “booties” are taken home by the Corfiots and many visitors to the island, in order to bring them good luck and prosperity.

And this custom is accompanied by the local philharmonic bands. As soon as the breaking of the canals is completed, the Philharmonic Orchestras take to the streets of the city again, playing the allegro march “Don’t be afraid Greeks”.

The custom of “Mastela”

The custom of Mastella takes place in the area of Pinia, in the old commercial centre of the city. According to the custom, residents place a barrel full of water and decorated with flowers and ribbons and invite passers-by to throw coins making a wish. At the time of the First Resurrection, someone falls in and collects the coins. A few centuries ago when the custom began, the townspeople would catch a passerby walking unsuspectingly through town and throw him or her into the barrel to collect the coins.

Traditional Corfu Easter, Passover In Greece, Corfiot Culture

The Tradition of the Holy Light

The reception of the Holy Light takes place in Pentofanaro in the presence of local authorities and is transferred to the Church of Agia Paraskevi and the Resurrection ceremony begins. Shortly before midnight, the Resurrection procession is transferred to the Pale of the Upper Spianada Square. There the Resurrection is celebrated and “Christ is Risen” is sung, with the three Philharmonic Orchestras of the city playing the march “The Greeks are coming”, the anthem of the union of the Ionian Islands with Greece. This is followed by drum rolls, fireworks and firecrackers.

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