Waldensians, Waldenses or Vaudois are names for a Christian movement of the later Middle Ages, descendants of which still exist in various regions. Over time, the denomination joined the Genevan or Reformed branch of Protestantism. About the earlier history of the Waldenses considerable uncertainty exists because of a lack of extant source material. They were persecuted as heretical in the 12th century onwards, endured near annihilation in the 17th century, and were then confronted with organized and generalized discrimination in centuries that followed. There are active congregations in Europe, South America, and North America. The contemporary and historic Waldensian spiritual heritage includes proclaiming the Gospel, serving the marginalized, promoting social justice, fostering inter-religious work, and advocating respect for religious diversity and freedom of conscience. Modern Waldensians are gathered in the Waldensian Evangelical Church.
 General description
The earliest Waldensians believed in the Bible as the sole rule of fatih, preaching and the personal study of the scriptures. In 1179, some Waldensians went to Rome, where Pope Alexander III forbade preaching without authorization from the local clergy. They disobeyed and began to preach according to their own understanding of scripture. Seen by the Church as unorthodox, they were formally declared heretics by Pope Lucius III in 1184 at the Synod of Verona, and by the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215.(At that time, the Catholic Church was the main religious power in Europe). In 1211 more than 80 were burned as heretics at Strasbourg, beginning several centuries of persecution that nearly destroyed the sect. Part of their legacy is recognized as works of the writer Henri Arnaud. The Waldensian Church of Italy has survived to the present day.
 Ancient origins asserted and disputed
Some groups of Mennonites, Baptists, Seventh-day Adventists, and other Protestants claim that the Waldenses' history extends back to the Apostles. Some Waldenses claimed for their churches an Apostolic origin, although the modern Waldensian churches claim they start with Peter Waldo. Many Roman Catholics contest this point believing the Waldensians were followers of Peter Waldo.
The supporters of the ancient origin claim the Waldenses' name did not in fact come from Peter Waldo but from the area in which they lived. They claim Peter Waldo in fact got his name by association with the Waldenses. This thought was current in the early 19th century:
The claim of an ancient origin has been accepted as valid by some Protestant historians. The Alexandrine La Nòbla Leiçon written in Old Occitan ("The Noble Lesson"), has traditionally been thought to have been composed in 1100, but some scholarship disputes this, now dating it between 1190 and 1240. Other scholars claimed Claudius, Bishop of Turin (died 840), Berengarius of Tours (died 1088), or other such men preceded Peter Waldo as the founder of the group. Ernesto Comba, who was professor of the theological faculty of the Waldensian school in Florence, presented arguments to demonstrate that the name Waldenses derived from valley ("vallis densa" valdensis) and that they already existed before the time of Peter Waldo.
It must also be noted, in the context of a discussion about the origins of the Waldensians, that the Church of Rome would have, and still has, a vested interest in casting doubt upon outside claims of the Waldensian church being ancient because of her own claim to 'Apostolic Succession'. Likewise, some Protestant groups attempt to claim a form of apostolic succession from the Waldensians, and their vested interest in the Waldensians being ancient (despite their own claims to the contrary) must be noted as well.
Another 19th century scholar and Free Church of Scotland minister, Rev. Dr. J.A. Wylie, 1808'1890, in his book 'The History of Protestantism [Vol I]' states, in chapter six, that,'Their [the Waldensian] traditions invariably point to an unbroken descent from the earliest times, as regards their religious belief.'
Dr Wylie goes on to argue:
'The Nobla Leycon, though a poem, is in reality a confession of faith, and could have been composed only after some considerable study of the system of Christianity, in contradistinction to the errors of Rome. ........ Their greatest enemies, Claude Seyssel of Turin (1517), and Reynerius the Inquisitor (1250), have admitted their antiquity, and stigmatized them as "the most dangerous of all heretics, because the most ancient."
Wylie's quote comes from Claude Seyssel of Turin, who lived centuries after Peter Waldo. Reynerius the Inquisitor (who lived two generations after Waldo) does not actually assert an ancient origin, but states that they had been around only "a long time."
 Origins in the Middle Ages
According to those who do not believe the Waldensians came from apostolic origins, such believe the Waldensians started with Peter Waldo, who began to preach on the streets of Lyon in 1177.
Peter Waldo preached without permission of the Catholic Church and by the early 1180s he and his followers were excommunicated and forced from Lyon. The Catholic Church declared them heretics'stating the group's principal error was "contempt for ecclesiastical power"'that they dared to teach and preach outside of the control of the Roman Catholic clergy. The Waldensians were also accused by the Roman Catholic Church of teaching "innumerable errors". The Waldensians rejected Roman Catholic teachings such as infant baptism, prayers for the dead and the pope having the ability to forgive sins.
Waldo and his followers developed a system whereby they would go from town to town and meet secretly with small groups of Waldensians. There they would confess sins and hold service. A traveling Waldensian preacher was known as a barba, and there is even record of some women holding that office. The group would shelter and house the barba and help make arrangements to move on to the next town in secret.
 Catholic response to Waldensians
The members of the group were declared schismatics in 1184 in France and heretics more widely in 1215 by the Fourth Council of the Lateran's anathema. The rejection by the Church radicalized the movement; in terms of ideology the Waldensians became more obviously anti-Catholic'rejecting the authority of the clergy.
Much of what is known about the Waldensians comes from reports from Reinerius Saccho (died 1259), a former Cathar who converted to Catholicism and wrote two reports for the Inquisition, Summa de Catharis et Pauperibus de Lugduno (roughly) "Of the Sects of Modern Heretics" (1254) Waldo possibly died in the early 13th century, possibly in Germany, but he was never captured and his fate remains uncertain.
As early as the 12th century, the Waldensians were granted refuge in Piedmont by the Count of Savoy. While the House of Savoy itself remained strongly Roman Catholic, this gesture angered the Papacy. While the Holy See might have been willing to tolerate the continued presence of large Muslim populations in the Normans' Kingdom of Sicily, it was less than willing to accept a new Christian sect in Piedmont.
The Waldensians became a diverse movement as it spread out across Europe in France, Italy, Germany, and Bohemia.
Particular efforts against the movement began in the 1230s with the Inquisition seeking the leaders of the movements. The movement had been almost completely suppressed in southern France within twenty years but the persecution lasted beyond into the 14th century.
The Waldenses were most successful in Dauphiné and Piedmont and had permanent communities in the Cottian Alps southwest of Turin. In 1487 at the insistence of Pope Innocent VIII a persecution overwhelmed the Dauphiné Waldenses, but those in Piedmont defended themselves successfully. A crusade against Waldensians in the Dauphiné region of France was declared in 1487, but Papal representatives continued to devastate towns and villages into the mid-16th century as the Waldensians became absorbed into the wider Protestant Reformation.
When the news of the Reformation reached the Waldensian Valleys, the Tavola Valdese  decided to seek fellowship with the nascent Protestantism. A Synod held 1526 in Laus, a town in Chisone valley, decided to send envoys to examine the new movement.
In 1532 they met with German and Swiss Protestants and ultimately adapted their beliefs to those of the Reformed Church. Moreover, the Waldensian absorption into Protestantism led to their transformation from a group on the edge of Catholicism that shared many Catholic beliefs into a Protestant church adhering to the theology of John Calvin, which differed much from the beliefs of Peter Waldo. From that moment the Church became the Italian branch of Reformed churches.
The Swiss and French Reformed churches sent William Farel and Anthony Saunier to attend the Synod of Chanforan, which convened in October, 12th 1532. Farel invited them to join the Reformation and to leave secrecy. A Confession of Faith, with Reformed doctrines, was formulated and the Waldensians decided to worship openly in French.
The French Bible translated by Pierre Robert Olivétan with the help of Calvin and published at Neuchâtel in 1535 was based in part on a New Testament in the Waldensian vernacular. The cost of its publication was defrayed by the churches in Waldensia who collected the sum of 1500 gold crowns for this purpose.
 Massacre of Mérindol (1545)
Main article: Massacre of Mérindol
Outside the Piedmont the Waldenses joined the local Protestant churches in Bohemia, France and Germany. After they came out of clandestinity and reports were made of sedition on their part, the French king, Francis I issued on 1 January 1545 the "Arrêt de Mérindol", and armed an army against the Waldensians of Provence. The leaders in the 1545 massacres were Jean Maynier d'Oppède, First President of the parlement of Provence, and the military commander Antoine Escalin des Aimars who was returning from the Italian Wars with 2,000 veterans, the Bandes de Piémont. Deaths in the Massacre of Mérindol ranged from hundreds to thousands, depending on the estimates, and several villages were devastated.
The treaty of 5 June 1561 granted amnesty to the Protestants of the Valleys, including liberty of conscience and freedom to worship. Prisoners were released and fugitives were permitted to return home. The Reformation was also somewhat beneficial to the Vaudois, with the religious reformers showing them respect, but they still suffered in the French Wars of Religion (1562'1598).
As early as 1631, Protestants scholars began to regard the Waldensians as early forerunners of the Reformation, alike how the followers of John Wycliffe and Jan Hus were regarded, who were similarly persecuted by Roman Catholic authorities.
 Later history
In 1655 the Duke of Savoy commanded the Vaudois to attend Mass or remove to the upper valleys, giving them twenty days in which to sell their lands. In a most severe winter these targets of persecution, old men, women, little children and the sick "waded through the icy waters, climbed the frozen peaks, and at length reached the homes of their impoverished brethren of the upper Valleys, where they were warmly received." There they found refuge and rest. Deceived by false reports of Vaudois resistance, the Duke sent an army. On 24 April 1655, at 4 a.m., the signal was given for a general massacre, the horrors of which can be detailed only in small part.
The massacre was so brutal it aroused indignation throughout Europe. Oliver Cromwell, then ruler in England, began petitioning on behalf of the Vaudois, writing letters, raising contributions, calling a general fast in England and threatening to send military forces to the rescue. The massacre prompted John Milton's famous poem on the Waldenses, "On the Late Massacre in Piedmont". The resistance which lasted into the 1660s was then led by a farmer, Josué Janavel.
In 1685 Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had guaranteed freedom of religion to his Protestant subjects in France. The cousin of Louis, The Duke of Savoy, Victor Amadeus II followed his uncle in removing the protection of Protestants in the Piedmont. In the renewed persecution, an edict decreed that all inhabitants of the Valleys should publicly announce their error in religion within fifteen days under penalty of death and banishment and the destruction of all the Vaudois churches. Armies of French and Piedmontese soldiers invaded the Valleys, laying them waste and perpetrating cruelties upon the inhabitants. A pastor Henri Arnaud sought help from William of Orange. He gathered a band of followers in Switzerland; and in 1689 made an attempt to regain their homes in the valleys.
After the French Revolution the Waldenses of Piedmont were assured liberty of conscience, and in 1848, the ruler of Savoy, King Charles Albert of Sardinia granted them civil rights. Copies of the Romaunt version of the Gospel of John were preserved in Paris and Dublin. The manuscripts were used as the basis of a work by Gilly published in 1848, in which it was related to the history of the New Testament in use by the Waldensians. A group of Waldensians settled in the United States at Valdese, North Carolina.
Later denominations such as Anabaptists and Baptists also began to point to the Waldensians as an example of earlier Christians who were not a part of the Roman Catholic Church, and held beliefs similar to their own. The Mennonite book Martyrs Mirror lists them in this regard as it attempts to trace the history of believer's baptism back to the apostles. James Aitken Wylie (1808'1890) likewise believed that the Waldensians preserved the apostolic faith during the Middle Ages. Still later, Seventh-day Adventist Ellen G. White taught that the Waldenses were preservers of biblical truth during the great apostasy of the Roman Catholic Church. She believed that the Waldenses kept the seventh-day Sabbath, engaged in widespread missionary activity, and "planted the seeds of the Reformation" in Europe. There is evidence of seventh-day keeping by at least some Waldenses prior to and about the time of the Reformation 
Some Waldensians families joined Anabaptism. A group from North Italy fled to Switzerland for religious protection and then to Pennsylvania later on after becoming followers of Menno Simons. Some later migrate north to Canada  where some of the communities still exist.
Today, the Waldensian Church is included in the Alliance of Reformed Churches of the Presbyterian Order.
 Waldensians by region
In 1848, after many centuries of harsh persecution, the Waldensians (as well as the Jews) acquired legal freedom in the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia as a result of the liberalising reforms which followed Charles Albert of Sardinia's granting a constitution (the Statuto Albertino). Subsequently the Waldensian Evangelical Church, as it became known, developed and spread through the Italian peninsula.
The Waldensian church was able to gain converts by building schools in some of the poorer regions of Italy, including Sicily. There is still a Waldensian church in the town of Grotte, Province of Agrigento at the southwest part of the island.
During the Nazi occupation of North Italy in the Second World War, Italian Waldensians were active in saving Jews faced with imminent extermination, hiding many of them in the same mountain valley where their own Waldensian ancestors had found refuge in earlier generations.
In 1975 the Waldensian Church joined the Italian Methodist Church to form the Union of Waldensian and Methodist Churches, which is a member of the World Council of Churches, of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and of the World Methodist Council. It has 50,000 members (45,000 Waldensians, of whom 30,000 in Italy and some 15,000 divided between Argentina and Uruguay, and 5,000 Methodists).
 South America
The first Waldensian settlers from Italy arrived in South America in 1856 and today the Waldensian Church of the Río de La Plata (which forms a united church with the Waldensian Evangelical Church) has approximately 40 congregations and 15,000 members shared between Uruguay and Argentina.
 United States of America
Since colonial times there have been Waldensians who found freedom on American shores, as marked by the presence of them in New Jersey and Delaware. In the late 19th century many Italians, among them Waldensians, emigrated to the United States. They founded communities in New York City, Chicago, Monett, Galveston and Rochester. Some Waldensians living in the Cottian Alps region of Northern Italy migrated to North Carolina in 1893 and founded the most notable Waldensian settlement in North America in Valdese, North Carolina, where the congregation uses the name Waldensian Presbyterian Church.
In 1906, through the initiative of church forces in New York City, Waldensian interest groups were invited to coalesce into a new entity, The American Waldensian Aid Society (AWS), organized "to collect funds and apply the same to the aid of the Waldensian Church in Italy and elsewhere'and to arouse and maintain interest throughout the US in the work of said Church'" Today, this organization continues as the American Waldensian Society. The American Waldensian Society recently marked its Centennial with a conference and celebrations in New York City.
By the 1920s most of the Waldensian churches and missions merged into the Presbyterian Church due to the cultural assimilation of the second and third generations.
The work of the American Waldensian Society continues in the United States today. The mission of the American Waldensian Society is to foster dialogue and partnership among Waldensian Churches in Italy and South America and Christian churches within North America in order to promote a compelling vision of Waldensian Christian witness for North America.
The vision of the society is to be a passionate witness in North America to the contemporary and historic Waldensian spiritual heritage: to Proclaim the Gospel; to Serve among the Marginalized; to Promote Social Justice; to Foster Inter-religious Work; and to Advocate Respect for Religious Diversity and Freedom of Conscience.
There exists a group under the name "The Old Waldensian Church of Anabaptists" that claim to have originally come from the Italian organization but after coming to America has maintained independence from church organizations or government incorporation including any tax exemption status. Once a sizable Church they have dwindled today to a very small group in Ohio and another in Pennsylvania.
The most well known Waldensian Churches in America were in New York and in Valdese, North Carolina. There is no longer a church in New York City.
The American Waldensian Society assists churches, organizations and families in the promotion of Waldensian history and culture. The society is friend to those who work to preserve their millennial heritage among their descendants. For example, over the course of 41 years, the Old Colony Players in Valdese, North Carolina, have staged " From this Day Forward", an outdoor drama telling the story of the Waldenses and the founding of Valdese.
Both the Waldensian Presbyterian Church and the American Waldensian Society have links with the Italian-based Waldensian Evangelical Church, but, unlike the South American Waldensian communities, they are independent from it.
In 1698 approximately 3,000-3,200 Waldenses fled from Italy and came to South Rhine valley. Most of them returned to their Piedmont valleys, but those who remained in Germany were assimilated by the State Churches (Lutheran and Reformed) and 10 congregations exist today as part of the Evangelische Kirche in Deutschland.
 Characteristics of the modern Waldensian Church
The present Waldensian Church considers itself to be a Christian Protestant church of the Reformed tradition originally framed by Huldrych Zwingli and John Calvin. It recognizes as its doctrinal standard the confession of faith published in 1655 and based on the Reformed confession of 1559. It admits only two sacraments, baptism and the Lord's Supper. Supreme authority in the body is exercised by an annual synod, and the affairs of the individual congregations are administered by a consistory under the presidency of the pastor.
 Historic doctrine
Among the earliest beliefs taught by the Waldensians were the rejecting of Roman Catholic traditions such as purgatory, the mass, and of indulgences and prayers for the dead. They considered all lying as a serious sin, they refused to take oaths and considered the shedding of human blood a crime. They consequently condemned war and the death penalty. In the pre-Reformation days of the movement, they also taught that the validity of the sacraments depended on the worthiness of the minister. The Waldensian emphasized voluntary poverty. They challenged the authority of the Roman Catholic Church on the basis of their belief that it was not based on the Scriptures.
 See also
 Further reading
 External links
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