Saturday, January 8, 2011
It reminds me of my poor Kalosinatos (in Panorea) and of his plight.
The article was published under the pseudonym Silektis.
Saint Spiridon has been in the news lately. The government has decided to give his church its own independent legal status. Until recently, the church, as well as the relics of the Saint, belonged to the Boulgari family.
The Boulgari family became the owners of St. Spiridon in the following circumstances:
George Kaloheretos, a resident of Constantinople, had St. Spiridon’s relics in his possession. After the fall of the city in 1453, he departed, taking the relics with him.
First he went to Epirus and then to Corfu.
Once in Corfu, Kaloheretos’ granddaughter married Stamatelo Boulgari (a Corfu resident). Since then the family of Boulgari has been the owner of the Saint and the church.
The governmental decision has changed matters.
We will not occupy ourselves (in this article) with the administrative matters of the church. This is of secondary importance. What is of major interest is the way the relics of the Saint have been safeguarded in Corfu for centuries , as well as the concentrated devotion of all Corfiots towards St. Spiridon.
For five centuries, during which time Corfu has gone through many hardships and has witnessed one occupation after another, the island has managed to sustain intact its faith and veneration for the Saint’s relics. When Corfiots are incapable of alleviating suffering for themselves, they turn to St. Spiridon to beg for strength. They lay their fate at his feet, when they themselves are powerless.
As a rule, and according to the folklore of the fair island of the Phaeacians, the Saint always listens and responds to the Corfiots’ prayers.
Let us look at one of those folkloric stories, which is based on a historical fact.
It was on Christmas Eve of 1629, when the first signs of the plague appeared in Corfu.
The Venetians occupied the island then. It is well known that the Venetian Republic took strict measures in order to safeguard the health and safety of its inhabitants.
How did the plague come to Corfu? That is the first question that preoccupied the Venetian Administration. They started investigating the problem meticulously. As a result of the investigation, the following was revealed:
Among the Corfiot aristocracy lived a gentleman-lawyer with the name Odigitrianos Sarantaris.
One day, one of the lawyer’s servants visited a Turkish ship moored in Corfu harbour. Once on board, he bought an expensive kerchief, which he gave as a present to his lady, Mrs. Sarantari.
Mrs. Sarantari placed the kerchief in her daughter’s wardrobe. Soon after, the daughter became ill with the plague, and died the following day. The doctors and family did not realize the cause of her death.
It was natural that, because of Mr. Sarantis’ social status, his daughter’s funeral would give rise to much grief and commiseration from the crowds.
A vast number of people attended the funeral, in order to express their condolences to the grieving family. Many Corfiot women kissed the grieving mother.
This plethora of people arriving at the heart of the infection had a terrible outcome. The plague spread throughout Corfu.
This was discovered as a result of the investigation of the matter.
As the number of victims increased by the day, the anger of the people towards the Sarantari family also increased. Public unrest followed, which the authorities had to control. They had to do whatever they could to calm public opinion.
Acting on the health and safety laws of the land, the local administration sent the entire family, in haste, to the Lazareto at Gouvia. However, the people continued to demand Sarantaris’ head on the platter.
The Administration had no choice but to succumb to the people’s outrage. They put poor Sarantaris on board a ship where he was shot without any procedures.
It was mostly the peasants who had demanded this harsh act, when they arrived in town in large numbers and in a threatening mood.
After the execution, a Magnificatio Service took place in the church of St. Spiridon. The Corfiots cried out to ask for the Saint’s help.
It was Palm Sunday. Suddenly, during the service, it was announced that the plague had gone and that health had been restored on the island.
A triumphant procession followed. The casket containing St. Spyridon’s relics was paraded throughout the town among the many grateful Corfiots. Some said that they had seen Saint Spiridon during the plague and had heard him saying that Corfu wouldl be saved - an illusion that can even be explained scientifically, if one takes the deep faith of the Corfiots under consideration.
The prison guards said that they had also seen a light burning above the belfry of the church during the plague.
After the triumphant procession, a collection of money was organized and five thousand ducats were collected. The money was used to decorate the church.
This is not my own story. It is as I found it in the magazine THEATIS one winter’s night, sitting by an open log fire.
Sunday, January 2, 2011
It is a number of years since I wrote “Panorea”. For an abridged version in English, see my first blog posting.
Panorea is not just the personification of Corfu, but an allegory of the world and what we have done to it.
Has anything changed? No!
Corfu is in a worse condition than ever. Its plight (just consider the accumulation of rubbish before Christmas) was mitigated only by the cold weather. If the dreadful refuse disposal situation had happened in the middle of the summer, we would all have had cholera, as they had in Mandouki in 1855, or even the plague, as in 1629-1630.
I am told the new hospital is finally operational. That’s good! I wish the doctors and nursing staff all the best of luck.
As for the rest? The market is an eyesore. The old harbour is a disaster. The roads are in a terrible state. The traffic is appalling. One can smell misery from afar.
Over the Christmas holiday, I saw -for the first time- the English version of the film Pollyanna.
I have never read the book. One of this year’s resolutions is to read it. Pollyanna is an American children’s classic, written by Eleanor H. Porter. As a mother, I failed to read it to my children. Other books were more in fashion at the time.
Pollyanna, like Panorea, is the name of the girl who is the main character in the respective books. As a result of the story, the name Pollyanna has become synonymous with optimism and a bright disposition. The main theme of the book and the books that followed is the glad game.
The Glad Game is a game that celebrates the good things we have, and avoids despair about the horrors around us.
Although the ending of Panorea is not all that pessimistic, the two heroines represent two totally different attitudes.
There is no glad game in my book. Or is there?
It is up to the reader to interpret the nature of the “glad game” in which Panorea’s tribe was engaged.
The glad game, according to Pollyanna, is a useful tool. If we all played it, perhaps we would all be much happier than we are. We would have no wars, and we would not climb over dead bodies in order to get what we feel we lack.