Byzantine Icons Through the Ages

Byzantine Icons Through the Ages

In the 3rd century, many believers were looking for salvation in Christian churches. They glorified these sacred places and particularly admired Byzantine icons that had been preserved there for ages. Believing that these relics were empowered with protective properties, people also kept them in public places and homes. Nevertheless, there were times when the Byzantine Church was at risk of destruction. If you want to have a firm grasp of the history and significance of icons, keep reading our article.

Byzantine icons and the cause of destruction

As icon studies attest, the veneration of icons has always had both supporters and critics. Nowadays, religion is more important than ever, and icons are increasingly valuable. But still, some critics believe that people should not use these graven images for prayer. As history proves, earlier times were not much better. In the 8th century CE, the Byzantine Church suffered the movement of iconoclasm or, in other words, the destruction of holy images. Icons were deliberately attacked by those who considered them heretical. That movement occupied two periods that are sometimes called the “First Iconoclasm” and the “Second Iconoclasm.”

The “First Iconoclasm”

The “First Iconoclasm” is connected with the Byzantine emperor Leo III and his successor Constantine V. They were the fierce opponents of the Byzantine Church and Byzantine icons. The largest icon in Constantinople was destroyed under the authority of Leo III. Constantine V went even further and killed the iconophiles. Apart from that, many churches were burned to the ground. At the time, it seemed that those prosecutions would never end.

The “Second Iconoclasm”

The “Second Iconoclasm” is famous for cruel acts of the emperor Theophilos (829-842 CE). His attention was chiefly focused on each source of icons, including monks and icon painters. During his reign, the list of methods used to destroy Byzantine icons seemed to be endless. Fortunately, a great number of icons somehow survived. It was not until a couple of decades later that the Byzantine emperor Michael III and his regent mother Theodora restored icon veneration in 843 CE. They started a new era where was no room for prosecutions and destruction. This day is still commemorated by the Church and called the “Triumph of Orthodoxy.”

As you can see, the significance of Byzantine icons has no boundaries as their history is full of multiple cruel acts. It is a wonder that we can still see them in churches.

Byzantine icons, as well as antique Greek icons, are an integral part of the Orthodox Christian religion. If you happen to visit an old church or monastery, be sure to honor these important “victims” of iconoclasm.