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June 13, 2011

A Miracle of Saint Onouphrios in Kerkyra

By Fr. George Anthis

At the Monastery of Saint Onouphrios near Gardelades in Corfu (northwest of Livadi Ropa, 17 km from the city of Kerkyra) there is to be found an icon dating back to 1783. The icon was done by the famous painter Spyridon Speranza, and it is heavily damaged due to it falling on the ground over thirty years ago. The central theme of the icon is the coronation of the Virgin Mary by the Holy Trinity, a theme clearly of the Latin West (such as that in the 13th century Church of Santa Maria Maggiore in Rome, and the paintings of Giovanni, Bellini, Raphael, and Velasquez), yet the icon itself is unknown in the West. At the three corners of the icon are depictions of three historical miracles of St. Onouphrios, of which only one scene survives today at the lower right corner. These miracles took place at the Monastery dedicated to St. Onouphrios in Kerkyra, and depict interventions of the Saint to save the monks and the Monastery.

In the scene that survives we see at the bottom a horse loaded with bags half submerged in the waters of the lake, while the driver is on shore giving a gesture as if there is a hopeless situation. At the highest point of the scene to the left we see the Monastery and the bell tower and a few houses to the right amid trees and shrubs. Hills with soft contours decorate the landscape, and at the very top of the scene we see St. Onouphrios depicted to his waist above a white cloud. In front of the Monastery complex is a monk, probably the abbot, turning towards the Saint with extended hands showing fervent prayer.

According to tradition, which is still remembered by the elderly, the driver was a trader of oil and, after having purchased a quantity of oil from the Monastery, took the opportunity to put even more oil in his bag than that which he purchased. Leaving the Monastery he came to the adjacent lake (Kavrolimni), and his horse dashed into the lake and was in danger of drowning. The abbot heard the screaming of the driver and went to the lake. Having asked the driver why this happened, the man confessed taking the extra oil, and immediately the horse emerged from the lake and continued along its path.

While the central image of the icon together with the saints preserve a traditional solemnity, the scene of the miracle of St. Onouphrios was worked in a much freer way. The soft modest colors with which the landscape is depicted give the impression of watercolors and remind us of the simple and charming atmosphere which we admire in the works of the French "naive" painters. Perhaps this is because the artist wanted to express here his personal style in a simple and direct way, using visual language and an indivual's sensitivity.

There are traditions of other miraculous signs of St. Onouphrios which we intend to distribute, if God wills, "lest they fade over time", as old Herodotus would have said.

Source: "Kerkyriaki Alitheia". Translated by John Sanidopoulos.