I realize that I've mentioned the word 'iconoclasts' and many of you may not know what it means. I didn't really know what it meant either until I started researching the Byzantine Empire before I came.
Iconoclasts are people who participated in an Iconoclasm which means 'destruction of the images'. At some point in the Byzantine Empire, the Emporer decided that images of holy people were blasphemy. They chopped up wooden icons and ground stainglass windows into dust. I haven't quite figured out why yet, and I am beginning to think that the reason is not exactly clear to anyone. Whatever the reason, the Byzantine Emporer started destroying the holy icons around 730 A.D. which caused quite a stir in the people. There was supposed to be a famous image of Christ above the palace gates that was rumoured to heal the sick, and when the soldiers came to take it down, a woman – now St. Theodosia – knocked him off his ladder and killed him. She was in turn executed and became the first martyr of the Byzantine Iconoclasm.
People died trying to protect the holy images, monks harbored fugitive artisans and images in their monastaries, artists had their hands pressed on hot iron plates to stop them from painting.
Finally, in 787 A.D., Empress Irene (of Athens, not of Hungary), who was very fond of the images, had her son, the Emporer, blinded and the images restored. That was the end of the first Iconoclasm. Apparently, it happened again between 814 and 842 A.D. The end result being that many of the old holy images from the Byzantine era had been destroyed. The church I saw yesterday, Hagia Eirene, had been stripped bare by such an event and the only thing that is left is a stark, plain cross hanging above the altar.