13/9/09

The lost churches of Corfu

The visitor who walks by the old town of Corfu is impressed by the exceptionally large number of churches. There’s probably no other town in Greece with such a ratio of churches and people.
The number of the churches is the outcome of the intense religiousness of our ancestors, but also the estate of familial, guild and co-operational churches, which had the effect of the intense construction of religious buildings in the town, as well as in the country side. Corfiots were so determined to keep building more churches, that the Venetians had to introduce a number of laws forbidding the construction of new churches, although those laws were not enforced consistently.
Nevertheless, historians note that the number of the churches in Corfu town was much larger in the distant past. The calamities that the town suffered in times of war, from the raid of Barbarossa in 1537 to the bombing during WW II, resulted to the ruination of many churches. Nevertheless, most dismantlements occurred during the works of the fortification of the town, from the end of the 16th century, to the beginning of the 19th.
The only way to locate the churches that disappeared in the past is the study of the historic documents of the Metropolis (bishopric) and the Historic Archive of Corfu. Due to relevant papers we are able to determine almost precisely how many and which churches were lost, or “moved” in past centuries and recompose the topography of the religious buildings in Corfu.
In the Old Fortress, for example, nowadays there is only the church of St George, built as an Anglican Church by the British, in the period of the Protection (protectorate). The historian Sp. Carydes, in his study “Urban space and sanctuaries: the case of Corfu in the 16th century”, has located in the Old Fortress sixteen churches! Those churches, fifteen Greek Orthodox and one Roman Catholic, are the following: of St Paraskevi located near the “Clock”, of St Anargyroi right above the (now) toppled walls in NE of the fortress, of St Theodoroi under the “Campana” entrenchment, of St Vlassios at the north end of the Dry Fosse, of St George where about today is the cafeteria, of St Demetrios of the Bridge at the north end of Contra Fossa, of St Ioannes the Baptist just above St George, of St Nicolaos of “Evrais” (Jewish Quarter) at the north end of Martinego Rampart, of St Nicolaos of the Forum located in the yard in front of the old British Hospital, of St Pangratios at the place where the Music Department of the Ionian University is today, of St Elias in front of today’s St George, of St Mary Acheiropiitos east of “Castel Da Mar”, of St Mary Odigitria in the modern concert area, of St Mary Portiotissa above the entrance of Mandrachio, of St Mary Soteriotissa at the area of the ruined fortifications opposite St George, and the Roman Catholic church of Peter and Paul at the leveled area under the British Hospital.
Next we present a notaric paper of the 16th century, referring to the lost church of St George in the Castle:
Contract of Construction works at St George in the Castle (16th c.)


1545, day 26th of July. Present Master Ritzo Zoticos acknowledged that promises to build the walls of the church of St George, the one located in the Castle, towards the representatives of the former Master Stefanos Sarantaris and Master Marcos Martenegos, in the manner that as much wall he builds, all the clay, stone, lime and labour to be of the craftsman, apart of the marbles, and to have one net Ducat for every yard he builds and he is obliged to build well and all the stones he finds to keep as gift....
A.P.C., Not., Vol. M 182, p. 193v

(the above article was written by Andreas Grammenos and was published in the newspaper "Corfu Today")

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