Every year during Easter for time and again, everyone’s eyes turn to Corfu since as a fact and the belief of many, Greek Easter in this Ionian island is unique! With the impressive customs and traditions retained unaltered by the Corfiots giving a particular “colour” in this so important celebration, Corfu is the place to be.
Splendour, theatricality, music, devotion and religious feeling, do make Easter in Corfu the one and only!
The celebrations for Easter in Corfu begin on Palm Sunday! “Ton Vagione” as the locals call it. At 11:00 hrs starts the procession of St. Spyridon, a procession celebrated since 1630 in commemoration of the discharge of the island from the deadly plague epidemic which in 1629 decimated the people of Corfu. The procession follows the line of the Venetian walls accompanied by all Philharmonics of the island that play in its honour.
Here it should be noted that this is the only day every year that locals and visitors have the pleasure of enjoying all 18 Philharmonic Orchestras of the island playing at a single event.
On Holy Monday, Corfiots are flowing out on the streets for shopping… and a sweet aroma of “Fogatsa” and “colombine” dominates every kantouni and every street.
On Holy Tuesday after the Mass, around 21:00 hrs, at the Peristyle of the Old Palace in Corfu Town is organised a Music and Poetry Night “From Golgotha to the Resurrection”.
On Holy Wednesday, early afternoon, all locals and visitors head to the churches all over the island for the Unction. Then those in town around 20:30 hrs flood the Municipal Theatre to enjoy the Municipal Choir in a concert that takes place every year on this day with Church Music and Melodies called Megalovdomadiatikon introducing the Divine Drama through church music from the East and the West.
On Holy Thursday, in all churches, the twelve Gospels are read. At the same time at Duomo, the Catholic Diocese, that is located close by the City Hall at Dimarchion Square, a small ceremony takes place. There are 12 candles lit and each time a Gospel is finished then a candle is put off. On this day at all homes in Corfu people dye their eggs red to have them ready for Easter Sunday.
On Good Friday, the processions of the Epitaphs start from very early in the afternoon through the picturesque streets of Corfu. Until late at night dozens of epitaphs will emerge and all of them will finally cross the historic centre one after the other.
At 21:00 hrs arrives the Epitaph of the Duomo, the Catholic Cathedral, impressive and accompanied by Philharmonics and all Corftiot Catholics. Here it should be noted that in Corfu Catholics and Orthodox celebrate Easter on the same date.
And then at 22:00 hrs arrives the Epitaph of the Cathedral of Corfu where first come the bearers carrying the “tortses” (large candles), the “candelabra” (lanterns), the “Scola” (banners) all held sideways showing that everyone is into mourning, followed by the philharmonics of the town of Corfu, schools, choirs and then at the heart of the procession the “Epitaphios” representing the body of Christ, beautifully decorated with spring flowers and borne aloft by soldiers and sailors.
Exactly before it, goes the clergy of the town in splendid robes with the Bishop in his gold mitre and behind it, follow the representatives of the State, the Mayor the local heads of the authorities and then… thousands of locals and visitors who hold lighted candles. The music here plays also an important part. And the philharmonics have a very special role.
The “Old” known as Palea or Kokkini (red) plays the Adagio of Albinoni, “Mantzaros” (blue) plays the Marcia Funebre of Verdi, and “Kapodistrias” plays the Elegia Funebre, the Sventura of Mariani and the funeral march of Chopin. The feeling of devoutness is widely spread and affects everyone as this grandiose ceremonial introduces the faithful to the spirit of the Passions.
On Holy Saturday at 06:00 hrs in the morning at the church of Virgin Mary of the Foreigners, takes place the custom of the earthquake that represents the reconstruction of the earthquake after the Resurrection described in the Gospel.
At 09:00 hrs the Epitaph of St. Spyridon that is accompanied in a procession by the sacred relics in commemoration of the salvation of the island from famine. The procession is accompanied by the Philharmonics that play the mournful melodies of Marcia Funebre from 3 “Eroica” Symphony of Beethoven, the Marcia Funebre «Caldae Lacrimae» of C. De Michelis altered by Marcia Funebre of Dim. Androni and culminates with the funeral march Hamlet of the Italian composer Faccio.
A bit later at 11:00 hrs happens the first resurrection. This is the time that the bells of St. Spyridon’s church beat joyfully, the horns of the ships docked at the port whistle harmoniously while at the same time the residents of Corfu fly enormous clay pots full of water (botides) from their balconies, causing excitement to the people.
After the breaking of the pots, the Philharmonics appear again in the streets playing the Alegre march “Do not be afraid of Greeks”.
In the evening of Holy Saturday, the Resurrection is celebrated on the stage of Pano Platia (Upper Square). The procession comes from the neighbouring church of Agia Paraskevi with the participation of the Bishops of both the Orthodox and the Catholic Churches, Clergy, local authorities, the Philharmonics and thousands of people. The six-storey buildings around the square look impressive with lit candles on balconies, while the square is flooded with tens of thousands of people holding candles.
And then come the fireworks that create a spectacular sight. Once the Resurrection ceremony is complete the bands roam the streets of the town playing cheerful marches and people follow singing. The feast has just begun and will last until the morning, with “tsilichourda” (a local dish that is only made for this evening), red eggs, “Fogatsa”, “colombine” and wine.
On Easter Sunday, early in the morning, there is a Mass in every church. Then from 11.30 hrs commence the celebrations at the Nautical Station of Corfu located in the New Fortress giving cheer and joy with dance groups and rich appetisers. In Corfu, unlike the rest of Greece, the lamb on the spit appeared in recent years and is not part of the local customs. Corfiots traditional Easter dish is Avgolemono, an egg and lemon soup with two or three types of meat that is meant to assist the stomach to adjust after the 40 days of fasting. The lamp is left for Easter Monday.
Easter in Corfu is a true super show with tens of thousands of spectators!