Thursday, 5 August 2021

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
68, Church of the Panagia Kassopitra, Kassiopi

The Church of the Panagia Kassopitra or the Virgin of Kassopitra stands on the site of the Temple of Zeus Kassios, which gives the town of Kassiopi its name (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The prayer diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is focussing this week on USPG’s links with the Nippon Sei Ko Kai, the Anglican Church in Japan, and this week’s anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on 6 August 1945.

I still have some final details to attend to in my address as President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND) at tomorrow’s Hiroshima Day commemorations in Merrion Square, Dublin. But, before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading.

During this time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am taking some time each morning to reflect in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

This week’s theme is seven churches on the Greek island of Corfu, and my photographs this morning (5 August 2021) are of the Church of the Panagia Kassopitra or the Virgin of Kassopitra, in the town of Kassiopi.

The Church of the Panagia Kassopitra dates from the fifth century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The village of Kassiopi (Κασσιόπη), 38 km north of Corfu town, was once a traditional fishing village, but in recent decades it has become one of the many summer resorts on the affluent north-east coast of the island and a popular destination for tourists, particularly from Britain and Italy.

The small, former fishing harbour is romantic and picturesque, lined with tavernas and bars. At the top of the street leading from the harbour, the town square is surrounded by tavernas, cafés, travel agencies, restaurants and shops.

The town has been heavily developed, and hotels and villas now extending far beyond the town. But this is not any other modern holiday resort, for Kassiopi has a history that dates back 22 centuries to Classical and pre-Roman times.

The town is said to have been founded in the Hellenistic period during the reign of Pyrrhus, King of Epirus in the 3rd century BC, as a supply post during his war with Rome. The victory of Pyrrhus came at such a cost to the Epirots that it has given us the phrase ‘Pyrrhic Victory.’

Corfu was conquered by the Romans of the island in 230 BC, and successive Roman emperors, including the Emperor Nero, came to Corfu the island to visit the Temple of Cassius or Kassios Zeus (Κάσσιος Ζευς). The cult of Cassius Zeus was centred on Mount Cassius in northern Syria, between Antioch and the sea, across the Orontes from Seleucia, and in turn the temple and its cult gave Kassiopi its name.

The small headland north of Kassiopi is dominated by Kassiopi Castle, a Byzantine fortress that was fortified further by the Venetians.

The fortress survived successive sieges by the Ottoman Turks in the 16th century, and parts of the fortress walls can be seen today from the coastal roads around the headland that also perfect views of the Albanian mountains and coastline.

But the most interesting site in Kassiopi is the Church of the Panagia Kassopitra or the Virgin of Kassopitra, which dates back to the fifth century, when the ruined Temple of Kassios Zeus was converted into a church by Saint Iasonas and Saint Sosipatros.

This beautiful church is near the main street of Kassiopi, the harbour and the castle. In the Middle Ages, this was one of the most famous churches on the island. It is mentioned by Latin travellers in the Middle Ages, indicating it was known beyond Corfu as a place of pilgrimage.

The church once held the relics of Saint Donatos the Wonderworker, the Patron of Paramythia. These relics were later moved to Venice, although a small part of them were returned to Paramythia.

However, the church of Panagia Kassopitra has had a chequered past, and it was burned badly by the Ottoman Turks during the siege of Corfu in 1537.

The church was restored and rebuilt by the Venetians between 1590 and 1591 with the unusual provision of two altars to accommodate the liturgical needs of the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic people of the town.

The church has inscriptions bearing the dates 1590, 1670 and 1832.

The most important treasure in the church is the Icon of the Panagia Kassopitra or the Virgin of Kassopitra, said to be miraculous and revered as the protector of mariners.

Each year on 8 May the church commemorates a miracle said to have taken place in 1530 when the Panagia healed a blind man. Special liturgical commemorations also take place on 15 August, the Feast of the Dormition.

Much of the church was believed to have been destroyed, but during restoration work in the 1990s parts of Byzantine frescoes dating from the 11th or 12th century were rediscovered on the walls of the church.

The main road runs through the edge of the town, but in an effort to remove much of the commercial traffic from the town centre a loop takes buses as far as the village square, about 230 metres from the harbour, and there is a car and coach park at the top of the town.

This makes the centre of the old town almost traffic free and a pleasant place to sit in shade from the mid-afternoon sun, watching life go by in the Square.

The church made Kassiopi a centre of pilgrimage in the Middle Ages (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 19: 13-23 (NRSVA):

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14 And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15 He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16 Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ 17 And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.

21 From that time on, Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. 22 And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, ‘God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.’ 23 But he turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.’

The most important treasure in the church is the Icon of the Panagia Kassopitra (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary:

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (5 August 2021) invites us to pray:

We thank God for the gift of ecumenical collaboration in Hiroshima and around the world. May the church of Christ always seek to walk closer together, learning from one another.br />
Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Byzantine frescoes from the 11th or 12th century have been rediscovered on the walls of the church (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The harbour of the former fishing village at Kassiopi (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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