Easter, the greatest festivity of the Greek-Orthodox Church, is celebrated with particular reverence all over Greece. In Corfu the festivities of Easter are unique. The Western Civilization's influences are clearly visible even in this mainly Greek-Orthodox festivity.
Corfiots call Easter Lambri of Lambria (Bright) expressing this way the symbolic spiritual brightness of the day. After a long seven-week period devoted to fasting and abstention from any kind of feast, comes Easter, day of happiness, day of enjoyments.
The special local customs, the direct relation of these days with the beginning of spring, show off a uniqueness, which has rendered the Corfiot Easter an attraction with visitors from all over the world. The polyphonic ecclesiastical music (a local particularity) predominates and pours out of the Corfiot churches to the small alleys of the city and the suburbs. This harmonic melody, a particular quadraphonia, which came from Crete in the 17th century, even today is called "Cretan melody".
The Corfiot Easter begins with the religious events of Palm Sunday. At 11.00 in the morning of Palm Sunday, the litany of the Holy Shrine of Saint Spyridon takes place, a procession which holds since 1630, in commemoration of the deliverance of the island from the spread of the deadly plague, which took the lives of many Corfiots in 1629. This litany is the largest in size and length and circumambulates the city on the trail of the old Venetian city-walls, with many stoppages on the way for prayers and entreaties. It is the only litany that all 18 Philharmonics of the island participate to honor the Patron Saint of Corfu. It is the custom after the end of the litany, all the Philharmonics to parade through the old city center playing cheerful marches. On the same night at 8.30 in the Municipal Theater the concert of the 'Mantzaros' Philharmonic takes place with solemn music, which introduces us in the mood of the Passion Week.
From the next day, Monday before Easter, the Corfiots start shopping for Easter. The sweet smell of 'phogatsa', 'mandolato' and 'colombina' (all local food specialties) is sensed all around the city. In the afternoon the bells of the churches ring to call the congregation for the Service.
On Tuesday before Easter the famous Kassiani motet is heard in the churches and at 9.00 in the evening in the Peristyle of the Old Palace the "Organization of Corfiot Activities" (OKE) stages the Musical and Poetic Night with the theme: "From Golgotha to Resurrection".
In the past, from Wednesday before Easter onwards, the sheeps were brought from the countryside to Sarocco Sq. to be sold to the Corfiots and to the merchants from Patras. Nowadays, on the same night, at 8.30 the people are filling up the Municipal Theater to hear the Municipal Chorus singing ecclesiastical hymns of the Passion Week with chorals from the East and the West.
On Maundy Thursday the Service of the Holy Passion is attended by the Corfiots in the churches. In the Catholic Cathedral, Duomo, they light up 12 candles and put out one-at-a-time after the hearing of each of the "12 Gospels". On the same day with the first bell-ring the red Easter-eggs are dyed, eternal symbol of the renewal of life and nature.
OnGood Friday before the noon, the churches are crowded with people for the ceremony of the Descent of Christ from the Cross and the circumambulation of the dead Christ on a white sheet in an emotional atmosphere and the funereal ring of the bells. Later, the children run about the neighborhoods asking for flowers for the Epitaph. The decoration of each Epitaph is almost exclusive work of the young girls and towards the noon the Epitaphs are exposed to the faithful for pilgrimage.
Early in the afternoon begins the circumambulation of the Epitaphs on the streets, alleys and squares of the old city and the suburbs. From 2.00 in the afternoon until late at night, tens of Epitaphs will pass around the city and as time passes more Epitaphs gather on the historic center and almost cross each other. Each Epitaph is accompanied by a chorus, a philharmonic, torches, manual lamps, scouolas (guild Patron Saint standards), which during this evening are held sideways indicating the funereal character of the procession. Schools, scouts and groups of little girls carrying baskets full of flowers, which are abundant in Corfu this time of the year, also accompany each Epitaph.
The last Epitaph of the night is at 10.00 and is the impressive Epitaph of Corfu Cathedral. In this Epitaph, the presence of the Holy Clergy, of the Authorities and of thousands of Corfiots and visitors, gives an ecstatic dimension in this mournful night. The 'Old' Philharmonic ('red') performs the Albinoni's Adagio, the 'Mantzaros' Philharmonic ('blue') plays Verdi's Marcia Funebre and the 'Kapodistrias' Philharmonic plays Mariani's Elegia Funebre, also known as Sventura and Chopin's Marche Funebre.
On Holy Saturday at 6.00 in the morning the artificial earthquake is a custom of the church of Virgin Mary of 'Xenon'. It takes place just after the 'Apostle' and is a reenactment of the earthquake that is described in the Gospel as a consequential triumphal even of the Resurrection of Christ.
At 9.00 in the morning of the same day the devout circumambulation of the Epitaph of Saint Spyridon's church takes place. In 1574 the Venetian authorities prohibited, for security reasons, all the Epitaphs on Good Friday. Thus the Corfiots circumambulated the Epitaph of Saint Spyridon's church together with the Shrine of the Saint during the Holy Saturday litany, which was an already established tradition and could not easily be prohibited. The Patron Saint in this litany takes the place of Titular Bishop and the Epitaph follows. This litany is the oldest and the most impressive of all litanies of the Patron Saint of Corfu. It holds since 1550 in commemoration of the miracle of the Saint, which saved the island from starvation. The procession moves to the slow funereal rhythm of the three Philharmonics of the city.
The 'old' Philharmonic plays Faccio's 'Amlet', the 'Mantzaros' Philharmonic plays Micheli's 'Calde Lacrime' (Hot Tears) and the 'Kapodistrias' Philharmonic plays 'Marcia Funebre' from Beethoven's Heroica. After the end of the litany the Shrine of Saint Spyridon will remain on the church for a three-day pilgrimage
At 11.00 in the morning of the same day the people are expecting the so-called 'First Resurrection'. After the morning Mass the bells ring joyfully and from the windows and balconies of the houses thousands of full of water clay pots are dropped on the streets. This custom is connected with the Gospels, but is also a Venetian influence, who used to throw from their windows old pots and old objects on New-year's day, expecting new things to be brought by the new year. The Corfiots adopted this custom, but changed the date to Easter, the greatest Greek feast, and clay pots replaced the old objects. Another interpretation of this event suggests that the custom is pagan. Easter is occurring at the beginning of the new floral year, the nature awakes from hibernation and the fruits are collected in new pots, while the old ones are thrown away. After the dropping of the clay pots, the Philharmonics are marching on the streets of the historic center of the city playing allegro marches
In 'Pinia' the commercial center of the old city, the "Organization of Corfiot Activities" (OKE) has revived the old custom of 'Mastela'. At the old times the 'piniatores' i.e. the porters of the city, used to place on that spot an open barrel full of water. They decorated the barrel with myrtles and colorful ribbons, and spread around the place, were asking the passers-by to cast a make-wish coin in the barrel. At the time of the 'First Resurrection' they were chasing an unsuspecting passer-by to throw him in the barrel. The soaked to the skin Corfiot sprinkled from the barrel the watchers and at the end came out with joy and laughter with all the coins gathered at the bottom of the barrel.
On Easter night the Catholic Mass of the Resurrection takes place in Duomo with the accompaniment of the ecclesiastical organ. The Service ends at about 11.00 p.m. so that the congregation can be present at the Orthodox Resurrection.
The Orthodox Resurrection Service takes place at the kiosk of the 'Pano Platia'. The Bishop, the Authorities, the Philharmonics and thousands of people are present. Phantasmagoric and unique spectacle is the sight of thousands of candles on the balconies, the windows and the hands of the people that follow the Service that night, on the biggest square of Greece. The Resurrection of Christ is celebrated at 12.00 sharp with drumbeats and fireworks. As soon as the Service is finished the Philharmonics march around the city playing cheerful marches and the people follow behind them singing and wishing each other.
Easter in Spianada Square
The Corfiot Easter feast has just began and will last until the morning with 'tsilihourda' (local soup with minced lamb-tripe), red eggs, fogatsa, colombines (Venetian origin Easter cakes that look like pigeons) and lots of wine. The island is set on fire breaking the fasting and celebrating the Resurrection of our Lord.
On Easter morning every church circumambulates the icon of the Resurrection of Christ on the streets of Corfu and suburbs, in the same manner as the Epitaphs. On the same day each year from 11.30 a.m. onwards, the Naval Station of Corfu in the New Fortress, is open to the public with feasts, local dancing and rich tidbits. In Corfu the traditional menu of the first day of Easter is different from the rest of Greece. On Easter the Corfiots eat egg-lemon soup, made of 2-3 different kinds of meat, and leave the traditional roast lamb on the spit for Easter Monday. This has the explanation that the stomach is weakened by the long period of fasting and a soup will help it to recover.
On the same afternoon all the Corfiots go to the church for the so-called 'Service of Love', were the priest embraces and kisses the entire congregation and the congregation returns the reverence by holding and kissing the Gospel and the hand of the priest
In the past, Easter carols were sung from door to door, but nowadays the custom has been extinct. With solemnity take place at 6.00 p.m. in Garitsa the litany of the icon of the Resurrection of Christ and at the same time in Potamos the litany of the icon of the Resurrection takes place, together with the icon of Virgin Mary Dimosiana.
On Easter Monday, in nearly all Corfiot countryside, litanies of the icon of the Resurrected Christ take place, which pass through the rural areas and the villages and last from one to three hours.
On Tuesday after Easter at 5.00 p.m. at the church of Saint Spyridon, the Patron Saint of Corfu is set back in his Urn after a three-day pilgrimage
The Easter Week of the Corfiot Easter ends with the feast-pilgrimage on Friday after Easter at the Paleokastritsa monastery, which is the first religious feast of the Corfiot summer.