Christianity came early to Corfu
Christianity reached Corfu early when two disciples of St. Paul introduced the islanders to the Gospel and many of them converted to the new religion, a legacy vividly portrayed by the numerous churches and monasteries all over the island.
Though not all of those are still serving congregations, many are still of interest.
The island’s Christian history dates thus far back that the first missionaries, St. Jason and St. Sosipater, are even mentioned in the Bible – in Romans 16:21. The latter also features prominently in Acts 17:1-8 in providing a refuge to St. Paul and other of his disciples from harassment in Thessaloniki.
According to tradition the first Christians were fervently persecuted by the king of Corfu, but his daughter embraced Christianity, and when she fled from him and his ship sank in pursuit, drowning him and his crew, his successor as king also became a Christian.
That enabled the two missionaries to continue their spiritual work on the island in peace, and it bore abundant fruit.
The church in Garitsa dedicated to Jason and Sosipater was built in the twelfth century after Christ and is considered one of the finest surviving examples of Byzantine architecture on the island.
The remains of frescoes on the walls are of particular interest.
However, the most famous church on Corfu is the one built in 1589 and dedicated to St. Spyridon, the patron saint of the island.
It is believed that his miracles saved Corfiots from Ottoman oppression as well as from the plague.
The church in the Old Town houses his relics, and the impressive bell-tower is one of the best-known local landmarks.
With its rosy painted outside, featuring a blazing sun, and an impressive marble staircase, Corfu’s mother church, the Orthodox cathedral of Agia Theodora Metropolis near the old harbour, cannot be mistaken.
It houses the relics of St. Theodora (ca. 500 – 548 AD), once the influential empress of the Eastern Romanian Empire, with its capital in Constantinople, and the wife of emperor Justinian I.
Scattered in and around Corfu’s more than 200 towns and villages are found a wealth of village churches, mostly built between 1550 and 1750, with the bell-towers characteristically set apart from the main building. This was brought about by Venetian rule which discouraged the building of churches in traditional Byzantine style.
The three best-known monasteries are probably those on top of Pantoktator, Platytera in Mandouki close to the new harbour, and the one at Paleokastritsa.
Although not easily accessible, the view of Corfu and the surrounding Ionian Sea from the monastery on the peak of the island’s highest mountain, Mount Pantokrator, is unsurpassed.
The building itself is well preserved with fine-looking churchyards.
Built in 1743, largely restored in 1799 after being damaged by foreign invaders, and dedicated to the Virgin, the monastery of Platytera is best known for the well-preserved frescoes decorating its interior, and the grave of Ioannis Kapodistrias, the first governor of the independent Greek State.
The monastery of Paleokastritsa has a small museum, and the view from the top of the hill is also breath-taking.