In February, I received an invitation to join a tour of the Waldensian Valleys in northern Italy. Having read about the Waldensians in The Great Controversy, I had always been impressed by their steadfast adherence to the word of God as given in the Bible and intrigued by their determination to remain true to that word in spite of the efforts of the papacy to force them to yield to the authority of the “church.”
I eagerly signed up and looked forward with great anticipation to the trip, never having been to Europe before.
Prior to the trip, tour participants received detailed instructions regarding a rendezvous point at the airport in Milan. Each member was to have a brightly colored sign, inscribed “WALDENSIAN TOUR,” which enabled us to gather at the airport in Milan without too much difficulty.
We climbed into three nine-passenger vans and left Milan for La Gianavella, the youth hostel where we were to make our headquarters for the next week. La Gianavella is a historical structure dating back to the 17th century, built by Josué Janavel (1617-1690), a prominent hero who fought against the Savoy Duke, persecutor of the Waldensian people and representative of papal authority. The hostel overlooks the Rorà valley, hidden in a chestnut woodland. It is reached by a tortuous and winding one lane dirt road, high up in the Italian Alps.
From my previous reading about the Waldensians in The Great Controversy and in J. A. Wylie’s History of the Waldenses, I had assumed that this sect faithfully adhered to the commandments of God. I learned during this trip that the primary point of contention between the Waldensians and the papacy was where authority lay – the church versus the Bible, and was not specifically a Sabbath vs. Sunday issue. I knew that historically the Waldensians were Sabbath keepers and assumed that they continued to remain faithful to the fourth commandment to this day.
I was startled and dismayed to learn that in 1975, they entered into an “integration covenant” with the Italian Methodist churches, having ultimately capitulated to the rules of the church as opposed to the law of God.
In spite of this disappointing discovery, it was inspiring to visit several of the Waldensian churches scattered throughout the valleys of the Italian Alps and learn the history of their valiant fight against papal authority, which dates back to the 12th century. It then took less than a hundred years for the Waldensians to be declared heretical and subjected to intense persecution.
In the 16th century, Waldensian leaders embraced the Protestant Reformation and joined various local Protestant regional entities. As early as 1631, Protestant scholars and Waldensian theologians themselves began to regard the Waldensians as early forerunners of the Reformation, who had maintained the apostolic faith in the face of Catholic oppression. The group was nearly annihilated in the 17th century and was confronted with organized and general discrimination in the centuries that followed.
When the Waldensians were chased from the Pellice Valley by the Duke of Savoy, they retreated into several deep valleys in the Italian Alps, eventually establishing churches, where their presence is still very prominent. The world headquarters of the Waldensian Church, its synod, is located in Torre Pellice, a now thriving town in northern Italy. The Waldensian Museum is located across a pedestrian thoroughfare from the synod building. Unfortunately, it was closed for renovation when we were there.
Our visit included stops at one of the caves where several hundred Waldensians hid from their persecutors, similar to the one where many were suffocated when the entrance was blocked, barricaded with flammable materials, and set afire—simply because they would not capitulate to papal authority.
Another inspiring site we visited was the precipice where those faithful to God’s word were thrown to their deaths unless they acknowledged the authority of the “church” as superior to the Bible.
Being a father and a grandfather, I had quite an emotional experience as I envisioned whole families making the steep trek up the mountain to their deaths, the fathers attempting to reassure their children of the love of God in spite of their ultimate fate.
We also visited the “infirmary,” where the Waldensians attempted to hide their elderly and infirm, a narrow, almost inaccessible ledge, invisible from above, that could be reached only by an extremely difficult descent through a narrow gap between huge boulders.
The determination and strong will of these faithful souls became more and more apparent as we toured the various places where they clung so tenaciously to their beliefs, beliefs which were based solely and completely on the Bible.
Perhaps, then, you can imagine my shock when I learned that today, the majority of those adhering to the Waldensian faith are Sunday keepers. It took centuries for the papacy to gain the victory, which testifies to the relentless efforts the enemy of souls exerts to lead souls astray.
What a lesson this is for us today. Will we, individually or as a sect, eventually yield to Satan’s subtle but relentless efforts to dissuade God’s people from the path of truth and righteousness? Or will we remain faithful to God’s word, even when threatened with death?
NOTE: For further information on the current beliefs of the Waldensian Methodist church, visit their website at www.chiesavaldese.org/aria_video_category.php?video_category=2. Although the original is in Italian, Google will translate it into English. It is a sad revelation of the current state of a once-faithful people.
John R. Pearson is the office manager and a board member of Steps to Life. He may be contacted by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.