Andreas Karlstadt - Reformation - Iconoclasm and Marian Views

Iconoclasm and Marian Views

Some of the Protestant reformers, in particular Andreas Karlstadt, together with Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin encouraged the removal of religious images by invoking the Decalogue's prohibition of idolatry and the manufacture of graven images of God. As a result, religious statues and images were destroyed and damaged in spontaneous individual attacks as well as unauthorised iconoclastic riots. Erasmus described such an incident in a letter:

  • The smiths and workmen removed the pictures from the churches and heaped such insults upon the images of the saints and the crucifix itself.… Not one statue was left either in the churches, or the vestibules or the porches or the monasteries. The frescoes were obliterated with lime. Whatever would burn was thrown in the fire, and the rest was pounded into fragments. Nothing was spared for the love of money.

Karlstadt was a driving force of the “Bildersturm” (see Beeldenstorm) in his days. In 1522, he convinced the Council of Wittenberg to order the removal of all pictures, which had “catastrophic consequences.” Martin Luther distanced himself from these actions. On March 12, 1522, Karlstadt spoke about Marian pictures, which were venerated at the time, and urged that they all be removed. Special aim was taken at Marian pictures visited in pilgrimages, but he also called for the removal of all public religious imagery and symbols. He asked for the destruction of Marian shrines such as the church Mary the Beautiful in Regensburg. Karlstadt was not alone in his quest, but was supported by Martin Bucer, Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin.

Yet this was more than a local German event. Significant iconoclastic riots took place in Zürich (in 1523), Copenhagen (1530), Münster (1534), Geneva (1535), Augsburg (1537), and Scotland (1559). The Seventeen Provinces (now the Netherlands and Belgium and parts of northern France) were hit by a large wave of Protestant iconoclasm in the summer of 1566. In the Netherlands this is called the "Beeldenstorm" and began with the destruction of the all the images of the Monastery of Saint Lawrence in Steenvoorde after a "Hagenpreek" (field sermon) by Sebastiaan Matte, and the sacking of the Monastery of Saint Anthony after a sermon by Jacob de Buysere. The "Beeldenstorm" is often held to mark the start of the Dutch Revolt against the Habsburg rulers of the Netherlands, although the fighting did not begin in earnest for some years.

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