I actually saw a video of a statue of St. George fall and shatter during a procession. The screams of the people were chilling. The whole video really creeped me out, because I didn't know if I was bothered by the saint's image being defiled, or by the fanatical wails of the people that seemed to border on idolatry. If you want to see the video, PM me and I'll send you a link. I won't post it here because it is pretty offensive.
I was raised half Roman Catholic, and out of my 10 or so years in the church during my youth I never kissed or bowed to anything. There were statues of the Holy Family in the sanctuary, but we never interacted with them.
This is a problem in some non-Catholic countries exclusively but not in Western Europe (except GB and France) and in South America, I guess. In my country (i.e. Italy) it is of common use for Catholics to bow and cross oneself in front of statues, and I can witness personally of a statue of Pope John XXIII in Sotto il Monte (the locality where he was born, some 10-15 km away from my home) being completely ruined by time everywhere but on his hands, whom the faithful continuously kiss and touch in veneration. The same happens every day also in a sanctuary 5 km from my home, in Ghiaie di Bonate, where a series of apparitions of the Virgin to a little girl occured during WW2. The statue of Crucified Jesus is continuously revered by the faithful with kisses on his feet and signs of the cross, exactly the same kind of piety the Orthodox pay to their icons. Anyway, to RCs statue veneration seems kind of being more limited to the miraculous statues and, for instance, to the statues held in sanctuaries, as they come to convey a "supernatural" contact with God. More in general, there is plenty of little statues depicting the Virgin in private homes where the family lits candles (I have one myself in my home due to my mother's devotion to the Mother of God), and many devout Catholics have printed images of saints in their pockets, named santini
, especially of saints such as st. Benedict of Nursia, Pio of Pietralcina, st. Antonio of Padova etc.
If you want my opinion, I think that the early Catholics/Orthodox just didn't pay much attention to iconography not because they saw it as a form of idol worship, but because Christianity was a persecuted religion not only in the Roman Empire, but also in the East, and having a picture or statue representing a Christian context might have been enough to spend the last minutes in company of ferocious lions, if you know what I mean.
"Pure" iconography was almost restricted to the catacombs (and in this case, kissing a picture over a tomb would have sounded at least "strange"), and the only pictures with a sacred value were highly symbolic, such as the Fish (the Greek word for fish is an acronym for "Jesus Christ son of God, the Saviour"), the Lamb or the Shepherd. The veneration of these symbolic images was correctly prohibited, as the 7th Ecumenical Council repeats, as they don't portray Jesus, but only represent him in symbols. Also, I think that many Christians were afraid of pagan contaminations. Jewish iconography, while certainly present as others have consistently demonstrated before me, was limited and purism was necessary. The developping synthesis of the Judeo-Christian witness of faith with the historical cultural inheritance of Greco-Roman and Coptic art was seen as a compromise and a fall apart from the Jewish roots of Christendom but, as many choices of the Church Fathers showed (such as the 25th december Nativity date) have proved that "pre-Christian" doesn't mean "anti-Christian" since a little seed of light was present in the symbologies of other religions which well adapted to widespread the Gospel to the Gentiles.
When Christianity finally became the official religion of the Empire, Christians could finally do what was impossible to do under persecution, including supporting and enriching their religious piety with iconography. This is also the time when the Mandylion showed for the first time the true face of Jesus (when the relic was brought from Edessa to Constantinople) changing Christ's representation as a beardless youngster (typical imagery of the Greco-Roman religious system) with the double-bearded long-haired Christ of the Holy Mandylion (cfr. the Shroud of Turin).
The tradition of st. Luke depicting the Virgin, st. Paul and st. Peter, is possibly symbolic but doesn't diminish its value. In his Gospel and in the Acts, Luke was able to "depict in words" the real essence of these characters while the other Gospels concentrated almost exclusively on Jesus himself. The three models of the Virgin attributed to Luke are, so to say, the "fruit" of the iconographic description of the Virgin:
- As the prototype of a loving mother (Mother of God of the Tenderness), showed in the episode of Mary perplexed and suffering for the prophecy of her Son's future destiny announced by the prophet in the temple;
- As the greatest prophetess and first disciple of her Son (Mother of God of the Way), showed in the Magnificat episode;
- In her Divine Motherhood (Mother of God of the Sign), showed in the Infancy Gospel section.
Of st. Peter and st. Paul, Luke gives good portraits in the Acts of the Apostles and, as Peter is concerned, in the "Tu es Petrus" episode particularly.
Hope this helps
In Christ, Alex