St Spyridon Church
The patron saint of Corfu is St Spyridon, from the 4th century. The saint was from Cyprus, and never had any particular association with Corfu until the Fall of Constantinople, when a monk from Corfu chose to bring his relics home with him. The church housing his relics, built in the 1580s, is the main church of the island, and it attracts pilgrims and locals alike.
The alley leading up to the church, St Spyridon St, houses the peak of tourist tat. The bell tower of St Spyridon itself rises incongruous in the background.
The Church of Saint Eleutherius and St Anne
stands just one block away from the cathedral of St Spyridon, and is testament to a time when that made sense. Another reminder of Venice, which has a similar density of churches.
Built in 1700 by the Vervitsiotis family, whose crest it features. Turned over to the food vendors guild. Restored bottom up, as the inscription says, in 1765. Destroyed in a Luftwaffe bombing in 1943 and rebuilt in 1950.
On the outside, the church of St Spyridon has a decent footprint for a building in the Old Town. On the inside, the church of St Spyridon is a dark, surprisingly small affair.
Once your eyes adjust to the dark, what is most striking to a contemporary Greek is how Western the frescoes and the older icons look.
One would expect no different of a cathedral built during 600 years of Venetian rule, and the four large icons at the back of the church (not finding them online readily) are very straightforwardly Italian baroque in their execution.
But the Byzantine styling of icons in the 20th century, such as are universally seen in churches in the Greek diaspora, is a 20th century revival, spearheaded by the painter Fotis Kontoglou
. In the 19th century, icon painters were a lot more Western.
My village church was built in 1907. All the icons, including the iconostasis, are neo-Byzantine. But the small paintings at the top of the iconostasis, of scenes from the life of Christ, are both older and Western. Although more mawkish French in execution than baroque Italian.
Revivals are a recurring characteristic of modern Greek culture, and this is the Byzantine rather than the classical Greek iteration of it. The Greek word for it, αναπαλαίωση, would be glossed as “reveteration.” It’s the opposite of “renovation”: it’s making everything old again.