Theodora (9th century empress)

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St. Theodora the Iconodule

The Righteous Theodora was the wife of Emperor Theophilus the Iconoclast during the middle of the ninth century. She was a strong iconodule who after the death of her husband overrode his iconoclastic policies to finally restore veneration of icons in the Eastern Roman Empire. With her glorification as a saint the Church remembers her role in this restoration. Her feast day is February 11.


Little is known of her early life. Coming from Paphagonia, Theodora descended from an aristocratic Armenian family. Theophilus' stepmother, Euphrosyne, selected her as his bride and during their marriage they had seven children, five daughters and two sons. The youngest son would succeed his father as Emperor Michael III.

Theophilus maintained the restored iconoclastic policies initiated by Leo V in 813 after the first period of restoration of veneration under Empress Irene in the late eighth century. Theodora, however, secretly was a strong believer in veneration of icons. Upon the death of Theophilus in 842, Theodora came to power as the regent for her son Michael and ended the iconoclastic policies of her husband in 843 with the backing of a church council. The proclamation of 843 restoring veneration of icons initiated the feast of the Triumph of Orthodoxy that has since been celebrated by the Orthodox Church each year on the first Sunday of Lent.

She ably governed the empire, including replenishing the treasury and fending off an attempted invasion by the Bulgarians. As Michael grew older, he came under the influence of his uncle Bardas, who undermined the authority of Theodora. In 855, he finally displaced Theodora from her regency and sent her to the Monastery of St. Euphrosyne, where she died around the year 867.

In 1460, the Turks gave her relics to the people of Kerkyra (Kephalonia).

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