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Friday, 2 April 2010

Corfu, Easter Saturday and Pot-Throwing

Tomorrow, well before 11am, there will be huge crowds waiting for clay pots of all shapes and sizes to be dropped from windows and balconies in the streets of Corfu's Old Town. I shall miss it this year. It's just as well that tourists know little of the (largely forgotten) origins of this ancient tradition.

Viscount Kirkwall (1864) wrote at some length about the Jews of Corfu and the custom of pot-throwing, now a huge draw and crowd-pleaser for tourists at Easter:

“An old Italian writer (quoted by Chevalier Mustoxidi) declared that there was in his time some descendants of Judas Iscariot living in the island of Corfu, where the house and country villa of the traitor still existed. This, of course, was a mere fable. But it is certainly curious that the modern Corfiots appear to cherish against the memory of Judas, a greater hatred than can be traced in the customs of other Christians. On every Easter Eve, a gun is fired as a signal at eleven, AM; and, at the same instant, from the windows and tops of all the houses in Corfu, great quantities of crockery are discharged into the streets. For this memorable occasion, all broken or cracked earthenware jugs and dishes are carefully preserved throughout the year. The supposition is, that good Christians are stoning, in imagination, the traitor Jew. The Greeks will not readily confirm this fact to a stranger, yet it is generally believed.”

Henry Jervis-White Jervis, in his “History of the Island of Corfu” (1852),
notes that, “at eleven o’clock on Good Friday, the Corfiots throw all their old pottery into the streets, and fire guns and pistols at Judas the rest of the day.”

John Gill, writing of Easter in Corfu in “Stars over Paxos” (1995), says of the pot-throwing, “This has been interpreted variously as representing the stoning of Judas Iscariot, the breaking open of Christ’s tomb, and a medieval, and anti-Semitic, tradition of clearing Corfu’s Jewish population from the streets on this Christian holy day.”

At the time that Kirkwall was writing, in the 1860s, there were about 6000 Jews on Corfu.

The symbolic stoning of Judas may be linked to a twelfth century tradition that Judas lived on Corfu, in a district called Skaria. It has been suggested that this legend can be traced back to the time of the Crusades.

Some Corfiots also believed that Judas Iscariot’s descendants lived in Corfu’s Hebraica: “haec famosa alitrix Iudae traditoris”. There was an old Venetian saying,“Juda iscarioto era un paesama corfiotto”.
This song, "Stand up for Judas", performed by Dick Gaughan, shocked me when I first heard it. Here is the original version.

Anyone singing that song in Corfu, especially at Easter,  would get more than a large pot broken on their head.

Editor(s):Anthony Hirst, Patrick Sammon

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