06 September 2019
Two churches in
Corfu that tourists
often fail to notice
The two best-known churches in the old town of Corfu town are the Church of Saint Spyridon, with the body and relics of the saint who has become the island’s patron, and Corfu Cathedral, which is dedicated to the Virgin Spiliotissas and Saint Vlassis and Saint Theodora, with the revered remains of the Empress Theodora, saint and defender of Orthodoxy. Perhaps only the former convent church on the tiny island of Vlacherna at Kanoni, south of the town, is better known as a church on Corfu.
During my visits to Corfu town over the past two weeks, I have also written about Holy Trinity Church and Saint George’s Church, the present and the former Anglican church in Corfu, and also visited Corfu’s only surviving synagogue.
But, like every Greek town, Corfu seems to have a church on every street and every corner, making it an interesting town for church crawlers and all who are interested in church architecture, history and art.
On one of my walks around Corfu this week, I visited two churches by accident rather than design and realised how easy it is for visitors and tourists to pass by these churches casually without realising the treasures to be discovered inside.
The Church of Saint Eleftherios and Saint Anna is an unusual single-nave church on Saint Spyridon Street, built in 1700 and restored in 1765. It is smaller and less known that its immediate neighbour, the Church of Saint Spyridon, but this makes its more peaceful and prayerful, and Olga who showed us around was eager to point out the treasures of the church, including its relics and icons.
The church was consecrated in 1700, after a private house was transformed into a religious building. A plaque in Greek above the main entrance recalls that the church was built by Theodora Vervitzioti, daughter of Nikolaos Vervitziotis, in memory of her parents and opened in June 1700. She later donated the church to the town’s guild of grocers and cheese sellers in 1714.
The church was renovated several times in 1765, as recalled in a second plaque, and in 1850 and in 1915.
The church was damaged extensively during the German bombings of Corfu on 14 September 1943 and was rebuilt in 1960.
Three plaques in Greek on the church façade commemorate its consecration in 1700 and, on each side on the façade, its renovation in 1765 and its rebuilding in 1960. The oldest plaque, above the main door, includes the coat of arms of the Vervitzioti family above the Greek text.
Inside, the treasures of the church include an iconostasis or icon screen topped with 12 icons of the apostles, a collection of relics gathered in one glass case that include relics of Saint James the Apostle and Saint Catherine of Alexandria, and a much-revered icon of Saint Anne holding her daughter, the Virgin Mary, who in turn is holding her son, the Christ Child.
The Church of the Panagia Mandrakina is close to the palace of Saint Michael and Saint George, between Boschetto Garden and the Garden of the People in Spianada.
The official dedication of the church is to Agios Panteleimonas, and historical records mote that it was built in the 18th century, although some accounts say it dates from the mid-16th century.
The church is popularly known as the Panagia Mandrakina, referring to the Virgin Mary as the protector of fishermen. It is said to have acquired its name from an icon of Virgin Mary that was found by the fishermen at the small port of Mandraki, the harbour of the Old Fortress of Corfu which stands above it.
The Church of Panagia Mandrakina is a small, orange and crimson church with an impressive and elaborate bell-tower that stands out amid the trees of the two gardens.
Like the Church of Saint Eleftherios and Saint Anna, it was heavily damaged during the German bombardment of Corfu in World War II. Its present form dates from its restoration in the early 1950s.
Outside, the church is symmetrical with a pediment. The impressive bell tower beside the church is quadrangular and castellated. The church and its small courtyard stand below street level. Today, the Church is popular for baptisms and weddings.