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Saint Spyridon's Church

The church of Corfu's patron saint Spyridon -or Spiros- is in the old town, and easy to find. The campanile soars above the town like a ship's mast, bedecked with flags and Christmas lights. Spyridon was a 4th-century Bishop of Cyprus, buried in Constantinople. When the city fell to the Turks, his bones were smuggled in a sack of straw to Corfu. The church was built in 1596 to house the relics, no longer in straw but in a silver Renaissance reliquary. According to the Corfiots, Saint Spyridon (the Miracle-Worker) has brought them safely through many trials, frightening both cholera and the Turks away from his beloved worshippers. He even gave the Catholics a good scare when they considered placing an altar in his church; the night before its dedication, he blew up a powder magazine in the Old Fortress with a bolt of lightning to show his displeasure. He did, however, peacefully accept a large silver lamp from the Venetians in thanks for his divine intervention against the Turks in 1716.

Four times a year (Orthodox Palm Sunday, Easter Saturday, 11 August and the first Sunday in November) his reliquary is brought out and the faithful gather from all over Corfu and the mainland, and queue to kiss the lid for good luck. In the church, amid mediocre Italianate frescoes blackened by smoke the gold shimmers through in the flickering light of votive candles. The nearby Ionian Bank houses a Museum of Paper Money with a collection of banknotes from around the world and Greek notes dating from the nation's birth; upstairs you can learn how they're printed. Across the square the church of the Panagia Faneromeni (1689) contains some fine icons of the Ionian School. The square gives on to the pretty main street, Nikiforou Theotoki.
From there, head up Evgenios Voulgareos Street to the elegant square with Corfu's Town Hall, a Venetian confection begun in 1691 that later did duty as the municipal opera house; grotesque faces grimace from the building and a bas-relief shows a triumphant Doge. The Catholic Cathedral of St James on the square was hit by German bombs in 1943. Only the bell tower survived intact the rest has been reconstructed.

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