Through the centuries, God has worked in many ways to preserve His truth and to protect His people. Sometimes, as when He freed Israel from their Egyptian bondage, He worked with signs and wonders; but at other times, He has used very simple means.
For hundreds of years before the Reformation, there were faithful people of God who lived in the Piedmont valleys of northern Italy. These faithful people were known as the Waldenses. They refused to accept the Roman Catholic religion, and this made them special objects of papal hatred. In 1487, Pope Innocent VII issued a decree, or bull, against them, urging that they must be completely destroyed.
Troops came in by the thousands—eighteen thousand regulars from France and Piedmont who were joined by a large number of rabble hoping to become rich by plundering the homes of these faithful people.
Cataneo was the papal legate, or representative, who led this army in its attack on the valley of Angrogna. As the battle proceeded, the enemy began to break through the line of the Waldenses’ defense, behind which were women, the children, and the aged. Seeing their defenders yielding before the attacking enemy, the Waldensian families fell to their knees and with tears began to cry, “Oh, Lord help us! Oh my God, save us!” This cry of distress caused their enemies to laugh. Seeing the praying company on their knees, one of the chiefs in the papal army, known as Black of Mondovi, cried out, “My fellows are coming—they are coming to give you your answer.” He then raised the visor of his helmet to show that he was not afraid of the people whom he had mocked and ridiculed. At that moment, a steel-pointed arrow struck him with such force that it penetrated his skull between his eyes, killing him instantly. His men, seized with panic, fell back in disorder.
Though they had been driven back, the invaders were not defeated. The next day they returned more determined than ever.
It seemed impossible that the Waldensian people could escape this time, but God was watching over them. He said to their enemies, as He had said to a tyrant many years before, “I will put my hook in thy nose, and My bridle in thy lips, and I will turn thee back by the way by which thou camest.” II Kings 19:28.
As the invaders entered the valley, they threaded their way up the narrow pathway that led along the face of a high wall. The path was so narrow that no more than two men could walk side by side. On one side was the mountain wall stretching upwards, and on the other was a deep ravine through the bottom of which a river flowed.
As the papal army advanced, the Waldenses noticed something that the invaders were completely unaware of. High over the mountain top, a small cloud about the size of a man’s hand appeared. The Waldenses watched as the cloud rapidly grew in size and began to descend to the valley below. In a few moments, it completely filled the narrow valley into which the papal army had come, filling it with the darkness of night. The blinded soldiers could neither advance nor retreat. Terrified, they halted, unable to move.
The Waldenses believed that God was working for them. Climbing quickly to the top of the slopes leading to the valley, they tore loose huge stones and rocks and sent them thundering down into the ravine below. The enemy soldiers, unable to move, were crushed where they stood. Some of the Waldenses then boldly entered the narrow valley, their swords in hand, and began attacking the invading papal army from the front. As they did so, a panic seized the papal army; and they began to flee in the darkness. This proved more disastrous to them than the stones. In their struggle to escape, they jostled against one another; and many of them fell to their death in the chasm far below.
This terrible defeat, coming as it had in so unexpected a manner, brought about the deliverance of the valley. After this battle, the Waldenses had peace in their valley for a number of years. The captain who commanded the invading force was named Saguet de Planghere; and the chasm, into which he fell, after all these centuries, is still called Saguet’s hole.
The Reformation history shows that it was by witnessing and suffering and not by fighting, that the light of truth was caused to shine; but in these experiences of deliverance, we see God’s providence in keeping alive a small band of witnesses in the Piedmont valleys until the time that the Reformation should come.