The unassuming exterior of the highly revered Saint Spyridon Church blends into the similarly tan façade of old town buildings, but you won’t miss its bell tower. A red-tipped beacon that one can see whilst approaching from sea, it draws eyes to the resting place of who Corfiots consider the keeper of their island.
Considered the most religiously important monument in Corfu, this Orthodox Church is named in honor of Corfu’s four-time protector: Saint Spyridon. It is believed that he first saved the town during a famine in 1553, dropping a precious cargo of wheat on the island. During the 1629 plague of Corfu, the people’s prayers evoked visions of Saint Spyridon healing the sick. He released the locals from yet another plague in 1673, his spirit chasing it away in form of a creature and embedding its mark into the walls of the fortress. Similarly, it is said that the Ottoman soldiers were repelled in 1716 by the terrifying visage of his image, cementing his title as Corfu’s protector saint.
But Saint Spyridon’s journey began long before Corfu. Born in Cyprus in 270 AD, he was a humble shepherd and village priest, later dedicating himself to a monastic life after the death of his wife. He passed and was buried in Trymithous in 348 AD, only to be exhumed and taken to Constantinople in 648 AD. Much later in 1453, his body was once again exhumed and brought to Serbia until it was finally laid to rest at Corfu.
One of Saint Spyridon’s early miracles has been memorialized as a common icon; him holding a flaming brick in one hand, a gospel in the other, and a shepherd’s hat on his head to signify his roots. The story behind it goes like this: once ordained as Bishop of Trimythous, he attended the first Council of Nicaea where he proved the existence of The Holy Trinity. As he held up a potshard to demonstrate the concept of triads, explaining that it “contains three separate bodies of fire, water and earth”, the potshard burst into fire and dripped water until all that were left was clay.
You’ll find much of his likeness within Saint Spyridon Church. In contrast to the church’s plain exterior, the gold gilded iconography of the ceiling is an extravagant and stunning depiction of Saint Spyridon’s life and miracles. Separated into various panels, the original 1727 paintings by Panagiotis Doxaras have whittled away to be replaced with copies by Nikolaos Aspiotis.
Other frescoes and a marbled iconostasis decorate its walls, but it is the crypt of his remains that draw most visitors. Deliberately made accessible, the relics are open to the public. Interestingly, his coffin has a removable bottom to make replacing his shoes easier. The thousands of pilgrims who visit on his Feast Day will then kiss his feet in worship.
The Saint Spyridon Church isn’t a large attraction by any means, but is an extremely important heritage piece to the local community. Do stop by to pay your respects or simply to admire its intricate interior. Located in the old quarters, it is easily accessible and even acts as a passageway for some.