“As for the Waldenses, I may be permitted to call them the very seed of the primitive and purer Christian church, since they are those that have been upheld, as is abundantly manifest, by the wonderful providence of God, so that neither those endless storms and tempests by which the whole Christian world has been shaken for so many succeeding ages, and the Western part so miserably oppressed by the Bishop of Rome, falsely so-called; nor those horrible persecutions which have been expressly raised against them, were able so far to prevail as to make them bend, or yield a voluntary subjection to the Roman tyranny and idolatry. And there were numbers in every age, who were persecuted and put to death for this testimony.”
- Theodore Beza
The Waldenses claimed to be part of a faithful succession from the time of the apostles. They were part of the tradition of churches in northern Italy who resisted the authority of Rome. Ambrose of Milan (339-397) stood on the Word of God, which he declared to be his only authority, against emperors, popes and heretics. He believed in salvation by grace alone; he rejected any mystical power of the ordinances, of which he believed there were only two; he wrote against using images in worship; and he denied the pope’s supremacy over other bishops. The church in Milan continued to fight for their right to make decisions free from the pope. Though they stayed in fellowship with the Roman Church, they used their own liturgy and allowed priests to marry. They resisted papal authority until 1059, when they were pressured into formally submitting to the pope.
Claudius of Turin (814-839) strongly preached against the worship of images and saints, arguing that image worship was pagan and saint worship was Pelagian. He argued against using the sign of the cross and the worship of crosses: “If we worship the cross, because Christ suffered on it, we might also worship every virgin because he was born of a virgin, every manger because he was laid in a manger, every ship because he taught from a ship, yea, every ass because he rode on an ass into Jerusalem.” He also declared that Christ is the sole Head of the Church, and that the pope should not claim such a title.
In 1640 Rorenco, the Roman Catholic prior of St. Roch, Turin, was sent to study the origin of the Waldenses. After poring through many documents, he wrote that “they were not a new sect in the 9th and 10th centuries and that Claudius of Turin must have detached them from the Church in the 9th century.”
“The Noble Lesson” is a Waldensian poem which is over 600 lines long and claims to be written in the year 1100; some German critics and most modern scholars reject the date that it has clearly written on it as its date of origin because they believe there were no Waldenses until Peter Waldo. The poem is written in the dialect of the Alps and not in that of Lyons where Waldo was from. “The Noble Lesson” gives a brief history of the Israelites and the coming and teachings of Christ, it calls for holy living and the fear of God. It has a similar interpretation of the teaching of the Sermon on the Mount as the Mennonite one, teaching the need to love and forgive one’s enemies and against oaths, divorce and remarriage. A Waldensian treatise on the Antichrist, who they identified as the pope, was written 1120.
The Name Waldenses
Waldenses means people of the valley. Eberhard de Bethune, A.D. 1160, says: “Some of them call themselves Wallenses because they live in the vale of sorrows or tears.” Some scholars believe that they derive their name from Peter Waldo/Valdes. Valdes comes from the word vallis or valley, Waldo is not a surname but a desition of origin: Peter of the valley. It is unknown if their name comes from Waldo or from the fact that they were from the valleys of the Piedmont.
Peter Waldo was born at Vaux on the Rhone River in Dauphiné. He became a wealthy merchant and prominent leading citizen of Lyons. He was known to practice usury and to be unjust in business transactions. He was married and had at least two daughters. Around 1160 the sudden death of a rich friend and leader in the community occurred at a public feast at which he was in attendance. While his heart was burdened by thinking on the vanity of life and earthly things, he joined a crowd in the street which was listening to a minstrel who was singing a ballad about St. Alexis. St. Alexis was a handsome, rich spoiled heir of a great estate who only lived for himself. On his wedding night Alexis fell under such agony of spirit over his way of life that he secretly ran away on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. On his journey he was so physically disfigured that he became very ugly; though he did learn to be holy and care about those in need. When he returned home he was rejected by all because of his ugliness. So he went and died under a staircase with nothing in the world. Waldo saw himself in the description of St. Alexis, a man who had everything but was in agony of spirit over his way of life. So he sought out a learned divine to ask more about the way to heaven, the scholar told him, “If thou wilt be perfect, go sell all that thou hast and give to the poor.” That day he resolved to make the Gospel his only rule for life and took a vow of poverty. He paid his creditors and gave his house, fields and vineyard over to his wife’s ownership, set aside money to provide for his daughters, and he went about systematically disposing of his wealth. He spent three days a week in the public square giving money away to those in need. Many thought him insane, but he said: “I am not mad, as you suppose, I am avenging myself of my enemy [his wealth], who has reduced me to such servitude as made me more mindful of it than of God.” He employed Stephen de Ansa and Bernard Ydros to translate and make many copies of the Bible in the Romaunt language. He also had a collection of choice sayings of Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and Gregory, on faith and practice, translated into the common tongue. Waldo was determined, witty and compassionate and he burned with a love for God and for living out His Word, and a group soon gathered around him. This group formed a kind of community around the street where he lived and grew to include a whole district of the city. They called themselves “The Poor in Spirit” or just the “Poor”. Unlike many Medieval movements that taught rejection of wealth and separtion from the world, “The Poor” were a joyful group who had a burning desire to share the Gospel. A revival was sweeping Lyons, people were repenting of sin, reading the Bible in their own language for the first time and helping those in need. Most of Waldo’s followers were well to do merchants and tradesmen, but there were also priests, and after the theologian Durand of Osca joined their group a growing number of scholars joined them. Their stated mission was to “Maintain, until our death, faith in God and in the Church’s sacraments…to preach freely, according to the grace given by God to each one of us; this we will not cease to do for any cause.” They began to send out lay-preachers after the model of the disciples being sent out two by two, with one cloak, taking no money, and wearing light sandals; they were called the “sandaled ones” by local folks. Waldo did not at first call in question any doctrine of the Roman church, nor did he contemplate separation from it, his simple purpose being to win men to a holy life. But the archbishop of Lyons publicly denounced Waldo and “The Poor Men”. The Bishop of Lyons demanded that they stop preaching and expounding the Scriptures without Church authority. Their answer was “We ought to obey God rather than man. Christ commanded his disciples to preach.” The Bishop excommunicated them in 1176 for preaching without his permission. Instead of accepting this excommunication, they appealed to Pope Alexander III and, because he wanted them to remain in the Church, he laid the matter before the Lateran Council at Rome in 1179. The pope praised Waldo for his vow of poverty, embraced him and would have permitted him to preach, provided that he maintained the faith of the Fathers. Waldo sent two of his disciples to the council to secure a license to preach. The pope turned the two men over to Walter Mapes for examination, who says of them: “There were brought to me the two Waldenses, who seemed to be the chief of their sect, to dispute with me, and shut my mouth as one who spoke evil. I confess I sat in fear lest in so great a Council the privilege of speaking might be denied me, seeing that it was at the request of sinners.” But he soon overcame his fear, and began to make light of the simple preachers, and even ridiculed them before the council because they avowed that Christ had sent them to preach and clothed them with power by the Holy Spirit. He, however, betrayed fear of the two preachers, saying, “If we let them in, we shall be driven forth ourselves.” Waldo and his followers were compelled to leave Lyons at this point. He entered the countryside south of Lyons; through their preaching many joined them. Persecution drove Waldo and his followers east and wherever they went they preached. During this time they came in contact with Albigensians and followers of Peter de Bruys and Henri of Lausanne, who were both true Gospel preachers. Through debates with them and going back and studying the Scripture, the “Poor Men of Lyons” began to reject more and more of the Roman beliefs and practices. The Roman officials declared “That the Roman Church cannot endure your preaching.” This enforced silence made them all the bolder: “Did not Christ send us?” said they, “why should his Church hinder us?” This, of course, could not be endured, and in 1184 a special council was held by Pope Lucius III and the Waldenses were excommunicated. Waldo, with a band of his disciples, fled to the Alps, between southern France and northern Italy, where they joined with those people of the valleys who had stood independent from the Roman Church. The “Poor Men” brought missionary zeal and the Scriptures in the common tongue, as well as swelling the numbers of these faithful congregations. Waldo died sometime after 1215 while doing mission work in Bohemia.
Bible Translation, Bible Schools, and Missionary Work
The center of the Waldensian Church was in seven valleys high in the Alps between France and Italy. They lived as humble shepherds and farmers. Their diet was a simple one of vegetables, mutton, goat milk and bread made from chestnut meal, taken from the chestnut forests in the lower parts of their valleys. The Waldenses loved the Scriptures, could repeat entire books with ease, sometimes the whole New Testament, and were extremely anxious to circulate Bibles, and to read them to men. In order to stop the Waldenses, the fourth Lateran Council in 1215, and the Council of Toulouse in 1229, forbade laymen to read the Bible either in the language of the people or in Latin, and the Council of Tarragona in 1242 prohibited the clergy from reading the Bible in anything but Latin. One inquisitor wrote of them: “Every one of them, old and young, men and women, by day and by night, do not stop their learning nor their teaching of others.” From a very young age boys were sent to study under pastors called Barbes or uncles, who had charge over the few copies of the Bible that the Waldenses had. The boys memorized at least the books of Matthew, John, Hebrews, I John, I&II Peter and James while those who desired to go into ministry memorized all the Gospels and Epistles as well as several Old Testament Books. After this the young men often went to universities in the cities of Lombardy or sometimes to the Sorbonne in Paris to give them a better understanding of the Roman Church and increase their scholastic knowledgeand to practice mission work without being caught. Those who were planning to become missionaries or ministers were encouraged to also become medical doctors. Waldensian physicians were some of the best in Europe and they used their art as an opening to share the Gospel. Many of their missionaries would also travel from town to town as minstrels singing and playing instruments, they would sing (and often compose) ballads that had the Gospel in them, while others were trained to be good merchants or peddlers. These peddler missionaries would sell articles to ladies in splendid homes, tell them about a richer jewel and then read or recite Scripture and share the Gospel. Before being allowed to serve as a minister in a congregation in the valleys the ministers had to spend three years serving as missionaries. The missionaries were usually sent out two by two, one usually young and new to the work while the other older and experienced. They would choose passages of Scripture that they would copy out of the Bible before leaving their valleys and they would give these papers out to those they met on their way. These missionaries planted churches all over Europe, some of the largest communities were in the Alps of France and Italy as well as in southern Italy, Switzerland, all over Germany, Bohemia, and the Netherlands. They also planted churches in Spain, Austria, all parts of France, England and Poland. In 1517 Waldensian missionaries were passing out large numbers of printed Gospel tracts throughout Italy and even in Rome.
Rejected the worship of Mary, saints and images
Rejected the swearing of oaths
Rejected gambling, dancing and attending theaters
Rejected infant baptism
(After they joined the Reformation in 1532 they instituted Protestant infant baptism)
Rejected ostentation and accumulation of wealth
Rejected the celibacy of ministers
Believed that marriage and the training of children was an important Christian calling
Believed that all believers are called to know the Bible and share the Gospel
Believed the Bible should be translated into the common tongue
Believed the ordinances and worship should be conducted in the common tongue
Believed that laymen can preach the Word not just the priests
Believed in two ordinances, Baptism and the Lord’s Supper
Believed that holy water is no holier than rain water
Believed in salvation by grace alone through faith, which produces good works
Believed in elder ruled congregations, not answerable to a pope or bishops
Believed in the Scripture as the rule for life
Believed in simple and modest dress
Believed in sharing their goods to help the needy
Believed that the pope was the Anti-Christ
The Counts of Lucerna befriended the Waldenses and secured the free exercise of their religion in the treaty made with the Duke of Savoy in 1233. This treaty gave protection for those in the Piedmont. The Dukes of Savoy, though at times they broke their treaty, saw the Waldenses as good productive citizens that helped make the Dukes and their land wealthier. This freedom in one location enabled the Waldenses to train missionaries and gather for large meetings of elders and ministers, without the constant fear of being caught. Though raids on the valleys did take place they were rare.
In 1208-1229 Innocent III called for a crusade against the Albigenses and other heretics which included the Waldenses. During this crusade many Waldenses died or returned to the Catholic Church. The crusade helped bring Waldenses together and give them a stronger mission focus, they believed they must be in the last days and that while time remained they must spread the Gospel in Europe. During this crusade Milan, Genoa and Piacenza refused to participate and gave refuge to the Waldenses, even dismissing mayors who tried to turn in Waldenses to be killed.
Waldenses in Spain were greatly persecuted; in 1192 Alphonso, King of Aragon, issued a decree expelling them from his realm.
In 1210 in Narbonne, England 130 Waldenses were burned alive for speaking out against the worship of images. In the same year twenty-three were put to death in Paris for the same reason.
In 1212 a congregation of five hundred Waldenses was discovered at Strasburg. Eighty persons in all, amongst whom were twenty-three women and twelve preachers, would not surrender their faith. They were then led to the church-yard, where a broad and deep ditch had been dug. Into this they were driven, wood was piled around them and they perished in the flames. To this day it is called the “Heretics Ditch” in Strasburg.
In 1308 in Lombardy, a Waldensian pastor Dulcinus and his wife Margaret, who had been very active in bringing others to Christ, were torn limb from limb while the congregation was forced to watch, then their bodies were burned and the priest had the whole congregation of 140 persons burnt alive.
In 1391 in a Waldensian community on the Baltic Sea 443 people were tortured and then killed for their faith
The 1487 Crusade against the Waldenses
In 1487 Pope Innocent VIII called for a crusade against the Waldenses; he pressured Charles VIII of France and the Duke of Savoy to take action. The pope promised forgiveness of sins to those who killed a Waldensian, freedom from their religious oaths, and he legalized any action of plunder, violence, or rape committed against Waldenses. Innocent VIII sent an army of 36,000 troops north, half of whom were trained troops and half were convicts and those seeking forgiveness of sins. Among them were some of the worst murderers, thieves and rapists in Italy, who the pope set free from prison promising them freedom as well as plunder if they fought. The French army swept down on one valley and the people fled up to a mountain cave, where they were trapped and the French killed 3,000 of them. In two neighboring valleys the Waldenses resisted from the mountain tops rolling stones down on their enemies and the armies moved on leaving them alone. The French army marched to the valley of Pragelas. Pragelas was the center of the Waldensian church where they held assemblies, had their school for training missionaries and where at the time there were sixty-four different assemblies. They started to kill and burn but the Waldensians rallied and organized in short order and drove the army from the valley killing large numbers as they went. The Italian army under Archdeacon Cataneo marched to the mouth of the seven valleys. The Waldenses sent Jolin Campo and John Desiderio to try and stop the army from destroying them; they said, “We are Christians and faithful subjects; and our pastors are prepared to prove that our doctrines are conformable to the Word of God….Our hope is greater than our desire to please men, beware how you draw down upon yourselves His anger by persecuting us; for remember that, if God so wills it, all the forces you assembled against us will nothing avail.” Cataneo believed that the herdsmen of the valleys would fall within an hour under his attack so he began his “victory march” up the valleys from which most of the people had already fled. One night 700 of Cataneo’s best men were sent to do a surprise attack on the Prali valley. The Waldenses fought back and all but one of the 700 was killed. The one that remained was sent back to warn Cataneo that this is what would happen to him if he fought them. The Waldenses were armed with bows that they used for hunting, long poles of chestnut wood sharpened on the end to make pikes, and small leather shields covered in chestnut bark. Boys and old men joined the fight, at times there were three generations fighting side by side. Cataneo’s army was ordered forward; they met a Waldensian force as they came to a narrow valley. The Waldenses poured volleys of arrows down on them. One captain leading the advance was Le Noir of Mondovi or Black Mondovi who called out blasphemous challenges to the Waldensian defenders. As he called to them he lifted the visor of his helmet so they could hear him, a young man, Pierre Revel, took careful aim and shot him between the eyes. At this the papal army was filled with fear and confusion and began running one another over as they fled, many of them died as they retreated, while the Waldenses stood above them on the slopes singing praises to God for victory. Filled with rage at this defeat Cataneo and his whole army reorganized and the next day they pushed up the valley. As they went up the valley they found no Waldenses, so they went higher and higher in the mountains until they were climbing up through a narrow crevice in the rocks above which the Waldensian army was concealed praying for the Lord’s deliverance, at this point a thick fog rolled down into the crevice making it impossible the papists to see. The Waldenses who could see began to roll large rocks down and fire arrows on them. The army turned in terror running over each other, slipping off the edges of over hundred foot cliffs. Cataneo and less than 300 soldiers of the original 36,000 troops left the valleys in defeat. After this defeat the pope granted the Waldenses peace in 1489. At this time there were about 800,000 Waldenses in the seven Piedmont Valleys. After the crusade the Waldenses became less courageous in their mission work and attempted to draw less attention to themselves.
The Waldenses and the Reformation
The Waldensians, long oppressed and persecuted by the Roman Catholic Church, heard in the 1520s of the glad tidings of the marvelous work of Reformation going on in the countries of Europe, bringing men out of darkness into the pure and beautiful light of the Gospel. Pastor Martin Gonin of the Valley of Lucerna was sent on a mission of inquiry to find out how far the nations of Europe had cast off the yoke of Rome. He returned in 1526 with books from Germany containing the views of the reformers and the news that the light of the Gospel had broken forth in Germany, Switzerland, France and elsewhere, and that many professed the same doctrines the Waldenses had from ancient times. In 1530 the churches of Provence and Dauphiné sent George Morel and Pierre Masson to visit the Swiss and German reformers to learn of their doctrine and manner of life. They met with William Farel and Berthold Haller, and members of the churches of Bern, Neuchâtel, and Morat. In October of 1530 Morel and Masson met with Œcolampadius in Basle, delivering to him a document in Latin which contained a complete account of their ecclesiastical worship, doctrine, discipline and manners, which brought Œcolampadius great joy. Morel and Masson then went on to Strasburg and met with Martin Bucer and Capito who rejoiced to meet them and gave these pastors good counsel. Returning to Provence Morel and Masson were arrested at Dijon from some cause of suspicion. Peter Masson was put in prison, and ultimately condemned and burnt for his faith “dying with the calmness of a Christian who feels he is redeemed.” George Moral succeeded in escaping from Dijon and returning to Provence with the answers and letters of the reformers.
“We render thanks to our most gracious Father that he has called you into such marvelous light, during ages in which such thick darkness has covered almost the whole world under the empire of Antichrist. We love you as brethren. As we approved of many things among you, so there are several which we wish to see amended. We are informed that the fear of persecution has caused you to dissemble and conceal your faith….I know your weakness, but it becomes those who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ to be more courageous. It is better for to die than to be overcome by temptation.” – Œcolampadius in a letter written on October 13th, 1530 to the Waldensian churches of Provence and delivered by George Morel
On October 12th, 1532 a synod was convened at the hamlet of Chamforans in the Valley of Angrogna in the Alps in the presence of all the people on a “shady piece of level ground situated half-way up the mountains, in a verdant amphitheatre, shut in like an arena for giants by the distant slopes of the Pra du Tour, then crowned with sparkling snows” to debate and discuss all the questions and differences between the ancient Waldensian Church and the newly arisen Protestant Churches of the 16th century and to determine their future relations to each other. Two of the major points of doctrine on which the Reformed representatives caused the Waldenses to change were infant baptism and predestination. The results of their discussions are embodied in the “Short Confession of Faith”; and the Waldenses joined in the Reformation movement at this time. Many attended this important convocation coming from the Waldensian and Albigensian churches and communities in the Alps and Calabria, and men from as far away as Bohemia. William Farel and Anthony Saulnier came from Switzerland to take part in the synod.
“The Reformers were greatly rejoiced to see that people, who had ever proved faithful –that Israel of the Alps, to whose charge God had committed for so many centuries the ark of the new covenant- thus eager in his service. And examining with interest the manuscript copies of the Old and New Testaments in the vulgar tongue which were amongst us correctly copied with the hand at a date beyond all memory, they marveled at that favor of Heaven which a people so small in numbers had enjoyed, and rendered thanks to the Lord that the Bible had never been taken from them.” –A Waldensian present at the 1532 Waldensian Synod at Chamforans
The 1532 Synod was very reviving to the Waldenses’ spirits and to the courageous practice of their faith; churches were rebuilt that had been razed by their persecutors, pastors were multiplied, crowds flocked to the worship services, and all cowardly concealments ceased which some of the Waldensians had resorted to in order to avoid persecution.
At the encouragement of William Farel and Anthony Saulnier at the 1532 Synod, the Waldenses undertook to fully finance the translation of the first entire French Bible from the original languages, and to assist Robert Olivétan, John Calvin’s cousin, in the work of translating. This was the Waldenses’ gift to the Reformed Churches; most appropriate as they had received the Scriptures from the primitive Church, defended it with their blood through centuries, and laboriously transcribed and circulated it.
While the Waldenses of Piedmont joined with the Reformed church many other Waldenses throughout Europe joined the Anabaptist movement, particularly in Switzerland, Germany and the Netherlands. In Freiburg, Switzerland there was a community of Waldenses, among them were the Stuckeys, Treyers, Reiffs, Buchers, Meyers, Nokomers, Husers and Rolets, these families would later part of the early Anabaptist movement in Switzerland.
“…They [the Waldenses] are the true people of patience, who, in faith, and hope, and charity, have silently vanquished all the assaults and efforts which their enemies have been able to make against them. They are the people of joyous affection and of constant courage; their name is the little flock; their kingdom is not of this world; their motto is piety and contentment; they are a church which has endured conflicts, and is embrowned and sun-scorched without, but fair and of goodly appearance within….” –from A Brief Account of the Persecutions which have in these days befallen the churches of the Marquisate of Saluces (1620)
“And you, poor sinners, remember that there is pardon in one only, that is in Jesus Christ; and were your souls red even as crimson, he could make them white as snow. The stains most indelible, even according to human laws, can be washed out by Him. Repent, and be converted, for the kingdom of God is at hand.” –Martin Gonin, one of the more distinguished of the Waldensian pastors, to his executioners right before his death in 1536 as a martyr for his steadfast faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and the sole authority of the Bible. He was arrested on his return trip home to the Alps from Geneva, where he had gone on the perilous journey to procure reformed writings for his fellow Waldenses in order to complete the work of instruction and renovation set in motion by the 1532 Synod.
An unusual trial was that of John Vernoux and Anthony Laborie in 1555 in which the Catholic judge actually entered into discussion with the Waldensian pastors using the Bible to try and prove that the Catholic Church was right in its views and they were not. The judges with almost paternal earnestness entreated them to return to Catholicism, so they would not be compelled to condemn them to death as they were required to do, adding that they desired a true reform in the Roman Church, but not out of it. Such was Vernoux and Laborie’s courageous and faithful stand for Christ that it appears that their judges grew in respect for them, even allowing Laborie to take his oath in court on the Bible, instead of a crucifix, which was contrary to all ordinary practice, being forbidden by the pope. Laborie called on his judges to not turn from the truth of the Gospel that was offered to them, and to fulfill the duties of their office which was to defend truth and not to condemn it. Laborie says, “They listened to me for about an hour without interruption, and I saw that some of the younger ones wept.”
Vernoux and Laborie, along with three of their companions, were condemned to death at the stake because they would not recant. “We give thanks to God,” said the five condemned men in letters to their friends, relatives, and colleagues in Geneva, “and await the hour, commending ourselves to your prayers.”
“The most admired stoicism of antiquity is not worthy to be compared with this serene and impressive resolution of the Christian’s soul. Courage shines forth only upon occasions; but resignation is courage become habitual and abiding. It originates not with man, but with God.” –Alexis Munston in The Israel of the Alps: A History of the Waldenses
“Anne, my beloved sister and most faithful spouse, you know how well we have loved one another, so long as it has pleased the Lord to leave us together; his peace has continually remained with us, and you have completely obeyed me in everything. I pray you, therefore, that you be always found such as you have been, and better, if it be possible, when I am no more. If your youth is alarmed at the world and poverty, I advise you to marry again, with another brother who equally fears God;… When your father shall be apprised of my death, I doubt not but he will seek after you to win you back to Popery; but I entreat you, in the name of the Lord, to remain firm in your adherence to the truth. Trust in God; pray to him, love him, and serve him, and he will not forsake you. Our little girl, as well as yourself, will be dear to him; for he is the protector of the widow and the father of orphans….” - Anthony Laborie in letters to his young wife (born a Catholic, but converted to the Gospel) in which he sought to prepare her for approaching widowhood.
Around 1557 a Waldensian pastor of the valley of Lucerna on his return from Geneva was arrested and taken to Turin. He steadfastly stood for Jesus Christ and His holy Gospel and would not recant. His judges condemned him to death at the stake. It appears that his dignity, gentleness, and the imposing and modest seriousness of his speech made such an impression on those around him, that on the day set for his death one of the executioners pretended to be ill and concealed himself, and the other, after putting some malefactors to death and afraid of being compelled to execute the minister, fled; in this way the minister’s death was prevented, he found a way to escape and he returned to his church. “[In] this extraordinary history…we see the executioners fleeing before the victim – the executioners more conscientious than the judges, and refusing to have anything to do with the execution – the executioners giving the Church of Rome a lesson of humanity! Many other Christians of the [Waldensian] valleys, or of the places adjacent , were also condemned to death in the 16th century; but very rare were the instances in which they succeeded in escaping the execution of the sentence, and [this] example is perhaps unparalleled….” - Alexis Munston
Mathurin, a French fugitive, was captured in the town of Carignano under the edict of 1560 of Emmanuel Philibert of Savoy commanding attendance at mass under pain of death. He was given the choice of abjuring his Christian faith or dying at the stake in three days if he would not come to mass. Mathurin chose death. His wife, Joan, the courageous daughter of the Waldensian martyrs, was afraid that Mathurin might recant out of affection for her or human weakness, and was desirous to confirm him in his faith and resolution, so she asked leave from the commissioners to see him. They gave her permission to, saying, “Provided that you do not harden him in his errors.” “I promise you,” she replied, “that I will not speak to him except for his good”; each placing a different meaning on her words. In the presence of the magistrates Joan exhorted her husband to steadfastness in the faith as earnestly as she could, saying, “Let not the assaults of the wicked one make you abandon the profession of your hope in Jesus Christ. And let not the love of this world’s possessions make you lose the inheritance of heaven,” amidst the rage and reproaches of the magistrates on hearing Joan speak so differently than they expected. Calling on Joan to renounce her faith or she too would be burned at the stake, she replied, “I fear him who is able to cast both body and soul into a more terrible fire than that of your billets. Where can truth be if not in the words of God?” To her husband she said: “Blessed be God! because having united us in life, he will not separate us in death! I will be thy companion to the end.” Her request was granted that she might die with her husband. Joan entered the prison a free woman, but she left it only to go her death at the stake. Mathurin and Joan spent their last evening together in prayer and meditation. On March 2nd, 1560 this faithful couple died together, holding hands until the last, with their souls united in the love of their Saviour.
“You have been caught in the act,” said the judge to Bartholomew Hector at one of his four trials before different judges, “of selling books that contain heresy. What say you?”
“If the Bible is heresy to you, it is truth to me,” replied the prisoner.
“But you use the Bible to deter men from going to mass,” urged the judge.
“If the Bible deters men from going to mass,” answered Hector, “it is proof that God disapproves of it, and that the mass is idolatry.”
“Retract!” exclaimed the judge.
“I have spoken only truth,” said Hector, “can I change truth as I would a garment? Out of Christ I grant that there is no salvation, and by His grace I will not forsake Him.”
“Return to the Church of Rome, if you would save your life,” said the court.
“Jesus says, ‘he who would save his life shall lose it, and he who shall lose his life for my sake shall live forever,’” replied Hector.
“Think of the abjuration which is required of you; it is the only means left you of saving yourself.” “What about the saving of my body, if I lose my soul?” said Hector. Bartholomew Hector was born in Poictiers. Being brought to a saving knowledge of the Gospel, Hector moved to Geneva with his wife and children. To earn a living he went about from place to place selling Bibles. In July of 1555, Hector came to the Waldensian valleys and mountains where he sold many copies of the Holy Scriptures. On the way back down the mountains he was arrested and imprisoned for seven months. His first trial was on March 8th, 1556; he was finally sentenced on June 19th, 1556 to die at the stake, which shortly took place, his godly behavior at the stake “drew rivers of tears,” says Leger, “from the eyes of many in the Popish crowd around his stake, while others vented reproaches and invectives against the cruelty of the monks and the inquisitors.”
In 1553 Emmanuel Philibert became the Duke of Savoy. He was a man of superior talents and a humane disposition and was married to King Henry II of France’s sister Margaret who had been instructed in the Protestant faith by Queen Marguerite of Navarre and Rénée of France, daughter of Louis XII. The Waldenses hoped they would be able to live and worship under him in peace. This was not to be, the treaty which restored Philibert to his ancestral throne contained a clause which bound him to extinguish heresy, this, combined with the strong wills and resolution of powerful men in his kingdom, was too much for Philibert, whatever his intentions may have been. In the beginning of 1560 an edict was issued forbidding Philibert’s subjects to hear Protestant preachers in the Valley of Lucerna, or anywhere else (the people resorted in crowds to the sermons), under pain of fines and the galleys for life. Another edict soon followed which command attendance at mass under pain of death. Count de la Trinita and Count de Raconis among others were commissioned to carry out these cruel decrees. The tempest of persecution first fell on Carignano, a town on the spurs of the Apennines, then swept across the plain of Piedmont to the entrance of the seven Waldensian Valleys. Tidings of this persecution reaching the pastors and leading laymen of the Alps, they met to fast, pray, and humble themselves before God to seek His guidance on what steps they should take. They determined to send a humble remonstrance and petitions to their prince, the Duke of Savoy, his queen, and to the king’s Council.
“First, we do protest before the Almighty and All-just God, before whose tribunal we must all one day appear, that we intend to live and die in the holy faith, piety, and religion of our Lord Jesus Christ, and that we do abhor all heresies that have been, and are, condemned by the Word of God. We do embrace the most holy doctrine of the prophets and apostles, as likewise of the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds; we do subscribe to the four Councils, and to all the ancient Fathers, in all such things as are not repugnant to the analogy of faith.” –Waldenses to the Duke of Savoy (1560)
“Did they not permit the Israelite to build his synagogue, and the Moor to read his Koran, without annoyance or restraint? Was it a great thing that the faith of the Bible should be placed on the same level in this respect with that of the Crescent, and that the descendents of the men who for generations had been the subjects of the House of Savoy, and who had enriched the dominions with their virtues, and defended them with their blood, should be treated with the same humanity that was shown to the alien and the unbeliever?” – Waldenses to the Duke of Savoy’s Council in 1560
The Waldenses’ petitions to the Duke and his Council were rejected, and war was declared against them. The papal armies of the Duke arrived at the valleys in November, 1560, but were unable to subdue the Waldenses by force of arms right away as they had expected. The Waldenses received letters of sympathy and promises of help from their Protestant brethren in Geneva, Dauphiné, and France. The Waldenses made an alliance with the French Protestants in the Valley of Pragelas for mutual aid in the coming struggle with the papal army in these words on January 21st, 1561 : “In the name of the Vaudois [Waldensian] Churches of the Alps, of Dauphiné, and of Piedmont, which have ever been united, and of which we are the representatives, we here promise, our hands on our Bible, and in the presence of God, that our Valleys shall courageously sustain each other in matters of religion, without prejudice to the obedience due to their legitimate superiors. We promise to maintain the Bible, whole and without admixture, according to the usage of the true Apostolic Church, persevering in this holy religion, though it be at the peril of our life, in order that we may transmit it to our children, intact and pure, as we received it from our fathers. We promise aid and succor to our persecuted brothers, not regarding our individual interests, but the common cause; and not relying upon man, but upon God.” Thus heroically and faithfully did the Waldenses open against the duke’s army one of the most brilliant campaigns ever fought by their arms. The evening before this pledge was made, a ducal proclamation had been made in the Valleys commanding the Waldenses to attend mass or take the consequences of fire, sword and cord.
On January 22nd, 1561 the Waldenses came to the church shortly after dawn where they were commanded to take mass or be punished. They cleared the church of its popish trappings and their minister, Humbert Artus, ascended the pulpit and preached to them from Isaiah 45:20. The Waldenses then drove the garrison out of one of the towns, and prepared for their defense with the zeal of men who feel their cause is right and are willing to die for it. Count La Trinita, a vile and cruel man, the general of the papal army gathered for the purpose of defeating and destroying the Waldenses, led his army of vastly superior numbers repeatedly against the Waldenses, but was driven back with enormous loss of life by the much smaller group of Waldenses who suffered few causalities. It was said at that time in the cities of the Piedmont that “God was fighting for the barbets [Waldenses].” The Waldenses laid the rule down at the beginning of the war that they would use with moderation and clemency whatever victories God gave them, and would shed no more blood than was necessary to prevent their own from being spilled. This war came to a conclusion on June 5th, 1561 when peace was signed between the Duke of Savoy and the Waldenses. By the terms of the peace the Waldenses were allowed to erect churches and carry out the public worship and all the offices of their faith. Duke Emmanuel Philibert maintained these terms for the most part until his death in 1580, resisting all the pressure to the contrary, except on one occasion when he was deceived by the wicked governor Castrocaro who molested the Waldenses for a time (his son Duke Charles Emmanuel imprisoned Castrocaro). The Waldenses enjoyed an unusual peace until 1629/1630 when famine, flooding and the plague struck them in their valleys.
Waldensian Colonies in Calabria and Apulia: About the year 1340, the Waldenses, finding themselves rather overcrowded in their valleys and desirous of more fertile fields, moved to Calabria in the southern extremity of the Italian Peninsula at the invitation of a gentleman from there. They took the Bible with them in the Romance version, and established a flourishing and prosperous colony in Calabria, building towns and villages. By an agreement with the local authorities the Waldenses were permitted to govern their own affairs both civil and spiritual. Two more groups of Waldensian emigrants came in the end of the 1300s and in 1500 to Calabria and the adjacent Apulia. They kept up their connection with their mother country of the Valleys on the northern extremity of Italy. Pastors in relays of two were sent from the Valleys to minister to Calabria and Apulia for a term of two years; they visited their brethren in the Italian towns on their way back to the Valleys, there being few cities in the Italian Peninsula at that time in which the Waldenses were not to be found.
In the mid 1500s the news of the Reformation in nations of Europe came to the Waldensian colonies in Calabria and Apulia, they heard of the 1532 Synod in the Valley of Angrogna, their spirits revived, they desired to take part in the great work of the emancipation of the nations, and openly declare the truth. No longer content with the visit of pastors they sought a minister who would live among them.
John Louis Paschale, a native of Italy, was sent from Geneva to Calabria, along with Mark Uscegli, amother pastor and two schoolteachers, to fulfill their request for a permanent minister to live among them. He was by birth from the Piedmont Plain and a Romanist and his first profession was the military. Paschale became a follower of Jesus Christ and studied theology at Lausanne. He was betrothed to a young Piedmontese Protestant two days before he was selected to be sent to Calabria; when Paschale told her he was going to Calabria, she sorrowfully exclaimed, “Alas! So near to Rome and so far from me.” They parted from one another and never more met on earth. The young minister preached with power in Calabria and the zeal and courage of the Waldensian flock revived and they openly displayed their light, formerly hid under a bushel. Paschale was arrested by the local Marquis for his teaching, and imprisoned for eight months. He was then taken to Rome in May of 1560, cited and sentenced to death before the papal tribunal on September 8th, 1560, and put to death the following day in front of Pope Pius IV and a vast crowd of people, bearing himself with courage and peace, and saying “Good people, I am come here to die for confessing the doctrine of my Divine Master and Saviour, Jesus Christ”, and denouncing Pius IV as the enemy of Christ and His people, and summoning him to answer for his crimes before the throne of the Lamb.
“My state is this, I feel my joy increase every day, as I approach nearer the hour in which I shall be offered a sweet-smelling sacrifice to the Lord Jesus Christ, my faithful Saviour; yea, so inexpressible is my joy that I seem to myself to be free from captivity, and am prepared to die for Christ, and not only once, but ten thousand times, if it were possible; nevertheless, I persevere in imploring the Divine assistance by prayer, for I am convinced that man is a miserable creature when left to himself, and not upheld and directed by God.” – John Louis Paschale in a letter to his congregation in Calabria from his prison cell
When it was known that Protestant ministers had come from Geneva to the Waldensian churches in Calabria the Inquisitor-General and two monks were set to reduce them to obedience to the Papal See or to trample the Waldenses out. The Waldenses would not return to the Roman Catholic Church; they offered to emigrate, but that was not an acceptable option to the Catholics. Through a terrible massacre the colony of Waldenses in Calabria was utterly exterminated, almost all of them were killed, some were sent to the Spanish galleys and only a few made it back to their native Valleys in the north to tell them that the once flourishing colony and church in Calabria no longer existed.
The Waldenses were mostly tradesmen, farmers, peasants, vinedressers, people of the lower classes socially, only a few of the upper classes and noblemen joined with them in their ancient faith. They contended for –and maintained and vindicated it by their sufferings and martyrdoms – the great principle and right of freedom of the conscience and worship. Through the centuries the Waldenses suffered time and time again persecution, slaughter, and martyrdom for their faith, but through it all it was as Catalan Girard said rubbing two stones against each other, as he died the martyr’s death, “You think to extinguish our poor Churches by your persecutions. You can no more do so than I with my feeble hands can crush these stones.” God always preserved a remnant in the midst of the rage of Satan and his hosts against them. The mountains sheltered the Waldenses from the many storms that faced them; they fought only defensively against their persecutors; they prayed before and after battles and sang the Psalms together; their pastors, affectionately called barbas, were loved, respected and heeded, who on their part labored for the spiritual and temporal good of their congregations with great love.
“Let your highness know that there is a God in heaven, who not only contemplates the actions, but also tries the hearts and reins of men, and from whom nothing is hid. Let your highness take care not voluntarily to make war upon God, and not to persecute Christ in his members…Persecution, moreover, will never advance the cause it pretends to defend. The ashes of the martyrs are the seed of the Christian Church. For the Church resembles the palm-tree, whose stem only shoots up the taller, the greater the weights that are hung upon it. Let your highness consider that the Christian religion was established by persuasion, and not by violence; and as it is certain that religion is nothing else than a firm and enlightened persuasion of God, and of his will, as revealed in his Word, and engraven in the hearts of believers by his Holy Spirit, it cannot, when once rooted, be torn away by tortures.” –Frederick III, the Elector of Palatine to the Duke of Savoy on behalf of the Waldenses