Empress Theodora, the Iconodule
Empress Theodora, the wife of the Byzantine Emperor Theophilos, secretly venerated icons even when she was married to a resolute iconoclast. Just like her female relatives, she kept icons inside her room. Her secret was revealed when a dwarf court jester named Denderis wandered into her room one night. Theodora had brought out her icons, and Denderis asked her what it was after he saw her kissing one. The empress replied that it was only a doll, and when dinner came, Theophilos asked Denderis where he went. The court jester answered that he just came from Theodora’s room and remarked that he saw the empress kissing a doll. It did not take long for Theophilos to realize that what the court jester saw was an icon. He stormed into Theodora’s room and asked for an explanation, but the empress only repeated what she said to Denderis. The emperor readily believed her or he just let the matter pass, and Theodora had the dwarf punished and threatened the next day. The definite decision for worship or veneration of images is recorded on the Bible Timeline Chart with World History at 842 AD.
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Restoration of the Veneration of Pictorial Icons
Theophilos died of dysentery on the 20th of January, 842 AD and as her son Michael III was just an infant. Theodora became the regent along with her uncle the Chief Magister Manuel and the Logothete of the Course Theoktistos. A year after Theophilos’ death, Theodora assembled a council to make a decision on the most important issue at that time: the controversial and unpopular imperial policy of iconoclasm. Her advisers told her that the restoration of the worship of idols was the only way to secure her son’s succession to the Byzantine throne. This was not an easy decision for her as there was a big chance for her husband to be anathematized in this council.
The council, which was presided by the prominent court spiritual adviser Methodius, assembled in March, 843 AD. The council deposed Patriarch John (who was then replaced by Methodius as Patriarch of Constantinople) while leading iconoclastic personalities were anathematized. Iconoclastic bishops and clergy were kicked out of their offices, and they were only allowed to remain if they repented in public. The deceased emperor Theophilos was the only exception thanks to Theodora’s earlier condition that he be exempted from condemnation. The empress later claimed that her husband repented in his deathbed. The veneration of pictures of icons was once again made legal starting in 843 AD. This legitimization did not cover sculptures that represented God, Jesus, and other saints.
Picture By anonimus – , Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4525711
Bury, J.B. A History of the Eastern Roman Empire: From the Fall of Irene to the Accession of Basil I (A.D. 802-867). London: Macmillan and, Limited, 1912.
Scylitzes, John. A Synopsis of Byzantine History, 811-1057. Translated by John Wortley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
Shepard, Jonathan, ed. The Cambridge History of the Byzantine Empire. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
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