February 10, 2018

Commemoration of the Deliverance of Zakynthos from the Plague by Saint Haralambos in 1728

Following the fall of various Venetian-occupied cities and forts in mainland Greece and the fall of Crete in 1669, Zakynthos became a key port for Venetian trade from and towards the Levant and Constantinople - where the Ottoman Turkish authorities lagged western Europe in disease prevention and control. Additionally, Zakynthos was only a short distance from the Peloponnese where again the Ottoman Turkish authorities were lax in enacting policies to prevent disease and building appropriate infrastructure to improve sanitary conditions and the health of the inhabitants of the area. Consequently, many merchants and sailors entered and exited the port of Zakynthos from Ottoman Turkish controlled ports - these merchants and sailors were sometimes unwilling to undergo the increasingly strict measures Zakynthos enacted to avoid plague, pestilence, cholera and other disease outbreaks. Therefore, the people of Zakynthos were at significant risk of being impacted by the plague, pestilence and other disease epidemics.

Zakynthos did suffer from serious outbreaks of the plague in 1617, 1646, 1692 and 1728 and also smallpox in 1713, 1748 and 1778. One of the most famous victims of the 1728 plague was the painter and sometime doctor, Hieronymous Plakotos. He and his son died in his doctor's clinic and the local authorities decided to burn it, including his paintings, fearing a further outbreak. From the beginning of the 18th century the sanitary measures taken by the Venetian authorities and enacted by local Cittadini such as strict control of population movements and quarantine, improved lazarettos, better trained public health offices and coastal garrisons, reduced the incidences of outbreaks in the 18th century.

In the year 1728 George Xenos of Zakynthos had a dream in which he saw Saint Haralambos thwarting off the deadly plague. Immediately after this vision the spread of the horrible disease began to subsist, and the population of Zakynthos appealed to the Venetian authorities to ratify the building of a new stone church dedicated to Saint Haralambos in Potami. Permission was granted and a beautiful church was erected. Annually a procession took place on February 10th to commemorate the deliverance of Zakynthos from the plague of 1728 by Saint Haralambos. In 1732 the iconographer Nicholas Kallergis, who painted most of the images of the church, painted a processional icon depicting the deliverance of Zakynthos from the plague by Saint Haralambos, and this image was coated in silver in 1743.

Litany with the Relic of Saint Haralambos, painted by John Koraes in 1756, from the Church of Saint Haralambos in Potami, now in the Museum of Zakynthos.