February 11, 2016

The Sacred Relic and Shrine of Saint Theodora the Empress in Kerkyra

In the beautiful city of Kerkyra, near the Sacred Church of Saint Spyridon, is the Sacred Metropolitan Cathedral of Kerkyra, which is dedicated to Panagia Speliotissa (of the Cave), Saint Blaise of Sebastea and Saint Theodora the Empress. It was built in 1577 over an older church dedicated to Saint Blaise (Vlasios), and after the destruction of the Church of Panagia Speliotissa, probably in a cave nearby, her icon was transferred to the Cathedral. The most famous treasure of the this church however is the incorrupt, fragrant and wonderworking relic of Saint Theodora.

The sacred relic of Saint Theodora was said to have been brought to Kerkyra in 1456, together with the incorrupt relic of Saint Spyridon (Dec. 12). Both had been in the Church of the Holy Apostles in Constantinople. Initially it was believed that the Priest George Kalohairetis brought the relics of Saint Spyridon and Saint Theodora to Kerkyra by enclosing them in two sacks filled with straw, after traveling through Greece on a donkey without incident. This opinion was recorded by Nicholas Voulgaris and first published in Venice in 1669 (Vera relatione del thaumaturgo etc. Venetia MDCLXIX), and he based this on the various writings of his family. But Bishop Methodios of Kerkyra and Paxos discovered in 1808 a manuscript from the fifteenth century that told another story, which was published in Greek in the Service of Praise and the Life of Saint Spyridon and placed as a footnote in The Great Synaxarion. Bishop Methodios says:

"The sacred relics of Saint Spyridon were not transferred to Kerkyra by the Priest George Kalohairetis, but by decree of the duke of the Council of the Ten Democracies of Venice. The transfer out of Constantinople took place on the 14th day of May, in the year 1489. The relics were brought to Paramythian, Epirus where they stayed for a time. The Priest Gregory Polyefktos who was there, in 1496, then brought the relics to Kerkyra. Once on the island, he found them and gave them to the Priest George Kalohairetis. Father George's son, Luke, then was bequeathed the relics, which he passed on to his neice, Asemine, the daughter of Philip, who was also Father George's son. Supposedly it was given to her as part of her dowry when she married Stamatios Voulgaris. In a document dated the 25th day of November, in the year 1571, the sacred relics were deposed of by will to her sons and descendents."

The Great Synaxarion also footnotes that, at the beginning, the relics of Saint Spyridon and Saint Theodora were placed in the Church of Saint Athanasios, which was later pulled down by the French in 1808. Then the relics were removed to the Church of Saint Lazarus, near the San Rocco. Later the relics of Saint Spyridon were transferred to the Church of the Archangel Michael in 1589, while those of Saint Theodora were situated in Saint Nicholas in 1575, where her relics remained until 1725, when they were then brought to the parish Church of the Archangel Michael. In 1841, when the Church of the Most Holy Theotokos Speliotissa was rebuilt and designated as a Cathedral by Metropolitan Chrysanthos of Kerkyra, her relics were transferred therein, and they remain there until today.

Every year, following the decision of the late Metropolitan Timothy of Triviza in 1984, on the Sunday of Orthodoxy there is a sacred procession of the holy relic of Saint Theodora throughout the city of Kerkyra. Saints Blaise and Theodora both celebrate their feasts on February 11th, and the Cathedral itself also celebrates on August 15th, since its official feast day is the Dormition of the Theotokos. On February 11th, whoever has the name Theodora or Blaise distributes pieces of watermelon to the congregation, to commemorate a miracle of Saint Blaise when he saved the island from an epidemic where children suffered in their throats. He had requested in a revelation to distribute to those children who suffered some fruit that he blessed, and by eating the fruit they were healed. However, this custom over the centuries gave rise to a misunderstanding which should be corrected. Because the head of the relic of Saint Theodora is covered, since she reposed as a nun and it is required for her head to be covered, it was thought that her body was headless and in its place a watermelon was placed. This watermelon was believed to be taken from the relic, blessed and distributed on her feast day.