By Megakles Rogakos, MA MA PhD
The Miracle of Saint Spyridon concerns the salvation of Corfu from the Ottomans, when they threatened the island with a powerful and destructive siege that took place on 8 July – 21 August 1716.
Saint Spyridon (270-348), Bishop of Trimythous, is one of the most beloved saints of the Orthodox Church. He was born in Askeia, Cyprus, where he worked as a shepherd and was known for his great piety. Taking part in the First Ecumenical Council of Nicaea in 325, he defended the doctrine of the Holy Trinity as concerning three entities, but only one God. When Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453, Saint Spyridon’s relics were removed to Corfu, where they remain in the Saint Spyridon Church to this day still incorrupt.
After the end of the Russo-Turkish war (1710-1711), the emboldened Ottoman leadership turned its focus on Venice, declaring war on 9 December 1714. The Venetians were well aware of Ottoman ambitions to capture the Ionian Islands and that Corfu was a supreme target. Preparing for the inevitable confrontation, the Venetian Senate appointed Andrea Pisani, already in Corfu, as Superintendent General of the Sea in 1715. In February 1716, the Saxon field marshal, Count Johann Matthias von der Schulenburg arrived on the island as commander-in-chief of the Venetian forces set about strengthening the fortifications with palisades, trenches and field works. On 5 July the Ottoman fleet of 62 ships anchored in the Corfu Channel, between the northeastern promontory of the island and the mainland, and began preparing for the siege. An Ottoman army of 30,000 infantry and 3,000 cavalry had gathered on the mainland shore at Butrint, ready to be ferried across the Corfu Channel by the fleet. At a critical moment of the siege, on 11 August, a fierce storm broke out that wrought havoc with the Ottoman fleet, with winds unmooring the ships and throwing them towards the shore. Undeterred, the Ottomans reorganised their forces on 20 August to resume their assault on the fortification, but on the next day, a Spanish squadron of six ships and news of the imminent arrival of a Portuguese squadron of nine ships was decisive. The serasker Kara Mustafa Pasha received urgent orders to wrap up operations so that his men could replenish the Ottoman forces in the northern Balkans. The Ottomans lost some 15,000 dead in Corfu, along with 56 cannons and eight mortars and large quantities of material, which they abandoned.
The Corfiots attribute the Ottoman withdrawal to the intervention of their patron Saint Spyridon and his miraculous storm. Every year, on 11 August, Corfu celebrates, with pomp and circumstance, the victory of the Venetian alliance against the Ottomans, on their last attack. To commemorate such a triumphant victory of the West, Count Spiro Flamburiari, Chairman of the Corfu Heritage Foundation, commissioned an 8-metre tall stone Obelisk to adorn the new junction of the Corfu Port Authority Company at Mantouki.
Corfu, 11 August 2022
[Translation of the Governor’s message above by Megakles Rogakos]
Dear and esteemed Spiro,
Happy returns and with the blessing of Saint Spyridon!
Today’s anniversary with its historical and religious content is particularly related to you. Celebrations and litanies take place every year, but the significance of this historic day for Corfu and Hellenism is highlighted and honoured by you, of course, more than any other Corfiot! You try and struggle with existing but also unexpected obstacles, to give it the added value it deserves.
I hope the outcome may be positive and your offer may be honoured.