Iconoclasm

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"Iconoclast" redirects here. For other uses, see Iconoclast (disambiguation).
"Triumph of Orthodoxy" over iconoclasm under the Byzantine empress Theodora. Late 14th – early 15th century icon.

Iconoclasm[Note 1] is the destruction of religious icons and other images or monuments for religious or political motives. In time, the word, usually in the adjectival form, has also come to refer to aggressive statements or actions against any well-established status quo. It is a frequent component of major political or religious changes. The term does not generally encompass the specific destruction of images of a ruler after his death or overthrow (damnatio memoriae). The destruction of religious icons by a group with another religion or culture is not considered iconoclasm.

People who engage in or support iconoclasm are called iconoclasts, a term that has come to be applied figuratively to any individual who challenges "cherished beliefs or venerated institutions on the grounds that they are erroneous or pernicious".[1] Conversely, one who reveres or venerates religious images is called (by iconoclasts) an iconolater; in a Byzantine context, such a person is called an iconodule or iconophile.

Iconoclasm may be carried out by people of a different religion, but is often the result of sectarian disputes between factions of the same religion. In Christianity, iconoclasm has generally been motivated by people who adopt a literal interpretation of the Ten Commandments, which forbid the making and worshipping of "graven images or any likeness of anything".[2] The Church Fathers identified Jews and Judaism with heresy. They saw deviations from Orthodox Christianity and opposition to the veneration of images as heresies that were essentially "Jewish in spirit".[3] The degree of iconoclasm among Christian sects greatly varies. Islam, in general, tends to be more iconoclastic than Christianity, with Sunni Islam being more iconoclastic than Shia Islam.

Religious iconoclasm[edit]

Byzantine era[edit]

Main article: Byzantine Iconoclasm

Although widespread use of Christian iconography only began as Christianity increasingly spread among gentiles after the legalization of Christianity by Roman Emperor Constantine (c. 312 AD), scattered expressions of opposition to the use of images were reported (e.g. Spanish Synod of Elvira). The period after the reign of Roman Emperor Justinian (527–565) evidently saw a huge increase in the use of images, both in volume and quality, and a gathering aniconic reaction.

In the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire, government-led iconoclasm began with Byzantine Emperor Leo III, following what seems to have been a long period of rising opposition to the use or misuse of images. The religious conflict created political and economic divisions in Byzantine society. It was generally supported by the Eastern, poorer, non-Greek peoples of the Empire[5] who had to deal frequently with raids from the new Muslim Empire. On the other hand, the wealthier Greeks of Constantinople, and also the peoples of the Balkan and Italian provinces, strongly opposed iconoclasm.[6]

Within the Byzantine Empire the government had probably been adopting Christian images more frequently. One notable change came in 695, when Justinian II's government added a full-face image of Christ on the obverse of imperial gold coins. The change caused the Caliph Abd al-Malik to stop his earlier adoption of Byzantine coin types. He started a purely Islamic coinage with lettering only.[7] A letter by the patriarch Germanus written before 726 to two Iconoclast bishops says that "now whole towns and multitudes of people are in considerable agitation over this matter" but there is little written evidence of the debate.[8]

Protestant Reformation[edit]

Further information: Beeldenstorm
16th-century iconoclasm in the Protestant Reformation. Relief statues in St. Stevenskerk in Nijmegen, the Netherlands, were attacked and defaced in the Beeldenstorm.
Looting of the Churches of Lyon by the Calvinists in 1562 by Antoine Caron.
Destruction of religious images in Zurich, 1524

Some of the Protestant reformers, in particular Andreas Karlstadt, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin, encouraged the removal of religious images by invoking the Decalogue's prohibition of idolatry and the manufacture of graven (sculpted) images of God. As a result, individuals attacked statues and images, and others were lost during unauthorised iconoclastic riots. However, in most cases, civil authorities removed images in an orderly manner in the newly reformed Protestant cities and territories of Europe.

Significant iconoclastic riots took place in Zurich (in 1523), Copenhagen (1530), Münster (1534), Geneva (1535), Augsburg (1537), Scotland (1559), Rouen (1560) and Saintes and La Rochelle (1562).[9] The Seventeen Provinces (now the Netherlands, Belgium and parts of Northern France) were disrupted by widespread Protestant iconoclasm in the summer of 1566. This is called the "Beeldenstorm" and began with the destruction of the statuary of the Monastery of Saint Lawrence in Steenvoorde after a "Hagenpreek", or field sermon, by Sebastiaan Matte.

Hundreds of other attacks included the sacking of the Monastery of Saint Anthony after a sermon by Jacob de Buysere. The Beeldenstorm marked the start of the revolution against the Spanish forces and the Catholic Church.

Remains of Reformation iconoclasm, Clocher Saint-Barthélémy, La Rochelle, France.

The Iconoclast belief was causing havoc throughout Europe, and in 1523, specifically due to the Swiss reformer Huldrych Zwingli, a vast amount of his followers viewed themselves as being involved in a spiritual community that in matters of faith should obey neither the visible Church nor lay authorities. According to author R.W Scribner:[10]

"Zwingli's attack on images, at the first debate, triggered iconoclastic incidents in Zurich and the villages under civic jurisdiction that the reformer was unwilling to condone." And due to this action of protest against authority, “Zwingli responded with a carefully reasoned treatise that men could not live in society without laws and constraint.”

—Wallace,[10] pp. 95


Muslim iconoclasm[edit]

Further information: Aniconism in Islam

Within Muslim history, the act of removing idols from the Ka'ba in Mecca is considered by all believers to be of great symbolic and historical importance.

In general, Muslim societies have avoided the depiction of living beings (animals and humans) within such sacred spaces as mosques and madrasahs. This opposition to figural representation is not based on the Qur'an, but rather on various traditions contained within the Hadith. The prohibition of figuration has not always extended to the secular sphere, and a robust tradition of figural representation exists within Muslim art.[11] However, western authors have tended to perceive "a long, culturally determined, and unchanging tradition of violent iconoclastic acts" within Islamic society.[11]

Recent events[edit]

Certain Muslim denominations continue to pursue iconoclastic agendas. There has been much controversy within Islam over the recent and apparently on-going destruction of historic sites by Saudi Arabian authorities, prompted by the fear they could become the subject of "idolatry".[12][13]

During the Tuareg rebellion of 2012, the radical Islamist militia Ansar Dine destroyed various Sufi shrines from the 15th and 16th centuries in the city of Timbuktu, Mali.[14]

During the Bahraini urprising a large number of Shia mosques were destroyed by the Sunni government.

The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has carried out iconoclastic attacks such as the destruction of Shia mosques and shrines. Notable incidents include the Mosque of the Prophet Yunus (Jonah)[15] and the Shrine to Seth in Mosul.[16]

Other examples of religious iconoclasm[edit]

  • In Judaism, King Hezekiah purged Solomon's Temple in Jerusalem and the Land of Israel of figures, including the Nehushtan, as recorded in the Second Book of Kings. His reforms were reversed in the reign of his son Manasseh.
  • In 305-306, the Synod of Elvira appeared to endorse iconoclasm. Canon 36 states, "Pictures are not to be placed in churches, so that they do not become objects of worship and adoration."[17][18][Note 2] Proscription ceased after the destruction of pagan temples.
  • During the process of Christianisation under Constantine, groups destroyed the images and sculptures expressive of the Roman Empire's polytheist state religion.
  • Most of the moai of Easter Island were toppled during the 18th century in the iconoclasm of civil wars before any European encounter.
  • After the Second Vatican Council in the late twentieth century, some Roman Catholic parish churches discarded much of their traditional imagery, art, and architecture.[19]
  • According to an article in Buddhist-Christian Studies: "Over the course of the last decade [1990s] a fairly large number of Buddhist temples in South Korea have been destroyed or damaged by fire by misguided Christian fundamentalists. More recently, Buddhist statues have been identified as idols, and attacked and decapitated in the name of Jesus. Arrests are hard to effect, as the arsonists and vandals work by stealth of night."[20]

Political and revolutionary iconoclasm[edit]

Damnatio memoriae[edit]

Main article: damnatio memoriae

Revolutions and changes of regime, whether through uprising of the local population, foreign invasion, or a combination of both, are often accompanied by the public destruction of statues and monuments identified with the previous regime. This may also be known as damnatio memoriae, the Ancient Roman practice of official obliteration of the memory of a specific individual. Stricter definitions of "iconoclasm" exclude both types of action, reserving the term for religious or more widely cultural destruction. In many cases, such as Revolutionary Russia or Ancient Egypt, this distinction can be hard to make.

Several Roman emperors and other political figures subject to decrees of damnatio memoriae, included Sejanus, Publius Septimius Geta, and Domitian.

Iconoclasm in the French Revolution[edit]

Throughout the radical phase of the French Revolution, iconoclasm was supported by members of the government as well as the citizenry. Numerous monuments, religious works, and other historically significant pieces were destroyed in an attempt to eradicate any memory of the Old Regime. At the same time, the republican government felt responsible to preserve these works for their historical, aesthetic, and cultural value. One way the republican government succeeded in their paradoxical mission of preserving and destroying symbols of the Old Regime was through the development of museums.

During the Revolution, a statue of King Louis XV in the Paris square which until then bore his name, was pulled down and destroyed. This was a prelude to the guillotining of his successor Louis XVI in the same site, renamed "Place de la Révolution" (at present Place de la Concorde).

The statue of Napoleon on the column at Place Vendôme, Paris was also the target of iconoclasm several times: destroyed after the Bourbon Restoration, restored by Louis-Philippe, destroyed during the Paris Commune and restored by Adolphe Thiers.

Demolition of Hindu temples[edit]

During Muslim conquest[edit]

General view of Temple and Enclosure of Marttand or the Sun, near Bhawan. . Photograph of the Surya Temple at Martand in Jammu & Kashmir taken by John Burke in 1868.

Records from the campaign recorded in the Chach Nama record temple demolitions during the early 8th century, when the Umayyad governor of Damascus, Hajjaj,[21] mobilized an expedition of 6,000 cavalry under Muhammad bin-Qasim in 712 CE.

The historian, Upendra Thakur records the persecution of Hindus and Buddhists:

... Muhammad triumphantly marched into the country, conquering Debal, Sehwan, Nerun, Brahmanadabad, Alor and Multan one after the other in quick succession, and in less than a year and a half, the far-flung Hindu kingdom was crushed ... There was a fearful outbreak of religious bigotry in several places and temples were wantonly desecrated. At Debal, the Nairun and Aror temples were demolished and converted into mosques.[22]

Sultãn Sikandar Butshikan of Kashmir (AD 1389–1413) ordered the breaking of all "golden and silver images". The Tarikh-i-Firishta states: "After the emigration of the Bramins, Sikundur ordered all the temples in Kashmeer to be thrown down. Having broken all the images in Kashmeer, (Sikandar) acquired the title of ‘Destroyer of Idols’".[23]

Somanatha Temple Prabhas Patan, Gujarat, from the Archaeological Survey of India, taken by D. H. Sykes in c. 1869.

In 725 Junayad, the Arab governor of Sind, sent his armies to destroy the second Somanath temple.[24] In 1024 AD, the temple was once again destroyed by Mahmud Ghazni[25] who raided the temple from across the Thar Desert. The temple was rebuilt by the Gujjar Paramara King Bhoj of Malwa and the Solanki king Bhima of Gujarat (Anhilwara) or Patan between 1026 and 1042. The wooden structure was replaced by Kumarpal (r. 1143–72), who built the temple of stone.[26]

Chinese "anti-foreignism"[edit]

Further information: Anti-Western sentiment in China

During the Northern Expedition, in 1926 in Guangxi, Kuomintang Muslim General Bai Chongxi led his troops in destroying Buddhist temples and smashing idols, turning the temples into schools and Kuomintang party headquarters.[27] It was reported that almost all of Buddhist monasteries in Guangxi were destroyed by Bai in this manner. The monks were removed.[28] Bai led a wave of anti-foreignism in Guangxi, attacking American, European, and other foreigners and missionaries, and generally making the province unsafe for foreigners. Westerners fled from the province, and some Chinese Christians were also attacked as imperialist agents.[29]

The three goals of the movement were anti-foreignism, anti-imperialism, and anti-religion. Bai led the anti-religious movement against superstition. Huang Shaoxiong, also a Kuomintang member of the New Guangxi clique, supported Bai's campaign. Huang was not a Muslim, and the anti-religious campaign was agreed upon by all Guangxi Kuomintang members.[30]

Other examples[edit]

Other examples of political destruction of images include:

  • Public references to the "heretical" Pharaoh Akhenaten were destroyed soon after his death in about 1334 BC; a very laborious process with stone-carved reliefs and inscriptions.
  • During the American Revolution, the Sons of Liberty pulled down and destroyed the gilt lead statue of George III of the United Kingdom on Bowling Green (New York City), melting it down for use as musket balls against the British Army. Similar acts have accompanied the independence of most ex-colonial territories. Sometimes relatively intact monuments are moved to a collected display in a less prominent place, as in India and also post-Communist countries.
  • From the 16th through the 19th centuries, much of the polytheistic religious deities and texts of Pre-Western Americas, Oceania, and Africa, were destroyed by Christian missionaries and their converts.[Note 3]
  • During and after the Russian Revolution of 1917, widespread destruction of religious and secular imagery took place, as well as destruction of imagery related to the Imperial family. The Revolution was accompanied by destruction of monuments of past Tsars, as well as Russian Imperial Eagles, at various locations throughout Russia. "In front of a Moscow cathedral, crowds cheered as the enormous statue of Tsar Alexander III was bound with ropes and gradually beaten to the ground. After a considerable amount of time, the statue was decapitated and its remaining parts were broken into rubble".[31]
  • During and after the Xinhai Revolution in China, as well as during the later Cultural Revolution, there was widespread destruction of religious and secular imagery in China, including Tibet after it was invaded and occupied by the PRC after 1950. The Cultural Revolution included widespread destruction of historic artworks in public places and private collections, whether religious or secular. Objects in state museums were mostly left intact.
  • During the 1956 Hungarian Revolution in Budapest, and through the fall of Communism in 1989, protesters often attacked and took down sculptures and images of Joseph Stalin, leader of the USSR.[32]
  • The fall of Communism in 1989 was followed by destruction or removal of statues of Vladimir Lenin and other Communist leaders in the former Soviet Union and in other Soviet bloc countries. Particularly well-known was the destruction of "Iron Felix", the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky outside the KGB headquarters, and another one of his on Warsaw square of his name (now Plac Bankowy).
  • The Muslim Taliban destroyed two ancient statues of the Buddha at Bamyan in Afghanistan in March 2001.[33]
  • The Battle of Baghdad symbolically ended with the destruction of a prominent Saddam Hussein statue in April 2003.

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Literally, "image-breaking", from Ancient Greek: εἰκών and κλάω. Iconoclasm may be also considered as a back-formation from iconoclast (from Greek εἰκοκλάστης). The corresponding Greek word for iconoclasm is εἰκονοκλασία – eikonoklasia.
  2. ^ A possible translation is also: "There shall be no pictures in the church, lest what is worshipped and adored should be depicted on the walls."
  3. ^ Such as during the Spanish conquests of the Aztec and Inca empires.

References[edit]

  1. ^ OED, "Iconoclast, 2", see also "Iconoclasm" and "Iconoclastic".
  2. ^ "You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. 5 You shall not bow down to them or serve them. . . ." (Exodus 20:4–5a, ESV.)
  3. ^ Michael, Robert (2011). A history of Catholic antisemitism : the dark side of the church (1st Palgrave Macmillan pbk. ed. ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 28–30. ISBN 978-0230111318. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  4. ^ "Byzantine iconoclasm". Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  5. ^ Cyril Mango, The Oxford History of Byzantium, 2002.
  6. ^ Mango, 2002.
  7. ^ Robin Cormack, Writing in Gold, Byzantine Society and its Icons, 1985, George Philip, London, ISBN 0-540-01085-5.
  8. ^ C Mango, "Historical Introduction", in Bryer & Herrin, eds., Iconoclasm, pp. 2–3., 1977, Centre for Byzantine Studies, University of Birmingham, ISBN 0-7044-0226-2.
  9. ^ Neil Kamil, Fortress of the soul: violence, metaphysics, and material life, p. 148. Books.google.com. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  10. ^ a b Wallace, Peter George. "Evangelical Movements and Confessions". The Long European Reformation: Religion, Political Conflict, and the Search for Conformity, 1350–1750. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. 95. Print
  11. ^ a b Flood, Finbarr Barry (2002). "Between cult and culture: Bamiyan, Islamic iconoclasm, and the museum". The Art Bulletin 84: 641–659. doi:10.2307/3177288. 
  12. ^ Howden, Daniel (2005-08-06). "Independent Newspaper on-line, London, Jan 19, 2007". News.independent.co.uk. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  13. ^ Islamica Magazine[dead link]
  14. ^ Tharoor, Ishaan (2012-07-02). "Timbuktu’s Destruction: Why Islamists Are Wrecking Mali’s Cultural Heritage". TIME. Retrieved 10 July 2012. 
  15. ^ "Iraq jihadists blow up 'Jonah's tomb' in Mosul". The Telegraph. Agence France-Presse. 25 July 2014. Retrieved 25 July 2014. 
  16. ^ July 2014 "ISIS destroys Prophet Sheth shrine in Mosul". Al Arabiya News. 26 July 2014. 
  17. ^ Elvira canons, Cua, Placuit picturas in ecclesia esse non debere, ne quod colitur et adoratur in parietibus depingatur .
  18. ^ The Catholic Encyclopedia, This canon has often been urged against the veneration of images as practised in the Catholic Church. Binterim, De Rossi, and Hefele interpret this prohibition as directed against the use of images in overground churches only, lest the pagans should caricature sacred scenes and ideas; Von Funk, Termel, and Henri Leclercq opine that the council did not pronounce as to the liceity or non-liceity of the use of images, but as an administrative measure simply forbade them, lest new and weak converts from paganism should incur thereby any danger of relapse into idolatry, or be scandalized by certain superstitious excesses in no way approved by the ecclesiastical authority. 
  19. ^ Chessman, Stuart. "The Society of St. Hugh of Cluny » Post Topic » Hetzendorf and the Iconoclasm in the Second Half of the 20th Century". Sthughofcluny.org. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  20. ^ Harry L. Wells, Korean Temple Burnings and Vandalism: The Response of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies. Buddhist-Christian Studies, Vol. 20, 2000, pp. 239-240; http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/buddhist-christian_studies/v020/20.1wells.html
  21. ^ Mirza Kalichbeg Fredunbeg: The Chachnamah, An Ancient History of Sind, Giving the Hindu period down to the Arab Conquest. [1]
  22. ^ Sindhi Culture by U. T. Thakkur, Univ. of Bombay Publications, 1959.
  23. ^ Firishta, Muhammad Qãsim Hindû Shãh; John Briggs (translator) (1829–1981 Reprint). Tãrîkh-i-Firishta (History of the Rise of the Mahomedan Power in India). New Delhi.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  24. ^ "Leaves from the past". 
  25. ^ "Gujarat State Portal | All About Gujarat | Gujarat Tourism | Religious Places | Somnath Temple". Gujaratindia.com. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 
  26. ^ Somnath Temple, British Library.
  27. ^ Diana Lary (1974). Region and nation: the Kwangsi clique in Chinese politics, 1925-1937. Cambridge University Press. p. 98. ISBN 0-521-20204-3. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  28. ^ Don Alvin Pittman (2001). Toward a modern Chinese Buddhism: Taixu's reforms. University of Hawaii Press. p. 146. ISBN 0-8248-2231-5. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  29. ^ Diana Lary (1974). Region and nation: the Kwangsi clique in Chinese politics, 1925-1937. Cambridge University Press. p. 99. ISBN 0-521-20204-3. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  30. ^ Diana Lary (1974). Region and nation: the Kwangsi clique in Chinese politics, 1925-1937. Cambridge University Press. p. 99. ISBN 0-521-20204-3. Retrieved 2010-06-28. 
  31. ^ Christopher Wharton, "The Hammer and Sickle: The Role of Symbolism and Rituals in the Russian Revolution"
  32. ^ Auyezov, Olzhas (January 5, 2011). "Ukraine says blowing up Stalin statue was terrorism". Reuters. Retrieved 9 April 2011. 
  33. ^ "Afghan Taliban leader orders destruction of ancient statues". Rawa.org. Retrieved 2013-04-30. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]