Wednesday, April 30, 2008


I went to high school in a little blip on the map named Corfu, NY. People kept wanting to call it corfoo, but we pronounced it corfyu. It's from an Italian form, which I would now guess is supposed to be pronounced more like outsiders' initial expectation. I didn't know then that it was named after a Greek island, and still don't know now why it was named after that Greek island. (The only remark I could find about it on their Web site was that some postmaster suggested it.) It's interesting to me, nonetheless.

The original Corfu (Gk. Κέρκυρας) is off the coast, just north of modern Greece, next to Albania. The Gospel reached the island in the time of the Apostles, and it has remained predominantly Greek Orthodox down to this day. For much of its history, Corfu fell on the border of the Eastern Roman Empire and bounced back and forth between Eastern and Western control. It was saved from the Ottoman conquest by appealing to Venice for protection. There was an influx of Latins, which has left a permanent mark on the cultural landscape, but the Greeks were allowed to practice their own Christian traditions in relative freedom.

Over the centuries, several Ottoman sieges were repelled, owing at least in part to Venetian assistance; the locals, however, see another, more important cause. When Byzantium fell to the Turks, a priest who had charge of the uncorrupted relics of St. Spyridon fled to Corfu, bringing the relics with him. Ever since, St. Spyridon has been the patron and protector of Corfu; deliverance from plague and invasion has been considered a miraculous result of his intercession.

In modern times, the island fell with Venice under Western colonial rule, until it was finally given to Greece. There remains a Catholic presence on the island, but it is fairly small and generally gets along well with the Greeks. When Greece adopted the Gregorian civil calendar in the 20th c., it caused a split in Easter celebrations, but the Catholic bishop appealed to the Vatican, and they now observe the holiday with the Greeks for the sake of consistency. (Western Easter is also celebrated for the sake of visitors.)

It's interesting now to think that this little village where I went to school was named after a place of such historical significance for Greek Orthodoxy (despite having hardly any Greeks in the community). In a county that currently lacks a single Orthodox church, perhaps St. Spyridon would be a good intercessor for that to change?


liturgy said...

I am delighted to find this amongst increasing web resources connected to Orthodoxy.
I run "Liturgy"
which seeks to be ecumenical
but I need so much to increase connection with Orthodoxy.
You might visit.
You might link.
Let me know so I can link back
and be part of increasing this awareness.


Bart said...

There's a street in my neighborhood called Corfu. We've always pronounced it cor-foo. I will never again commit such an atrocity of speech.

Henceforth, Corfu shall be known in the Blair house as CORFYU.

Trevor said...

I'm guessing they probably pronoonce such things more authentically in Canada, so you would have been right the first time. Anyway, I'm not sure they would have let an angry mob cross the border with torches.