Have you ever visited a place that so staggered you that it had an indelible effect on your life? Some veterans and their families experience overwhelming tears when they visit the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Waikiki, Hawaii. Others feel that same emotional tug on their hearts when they see the 911 Memorial and Museum. Many who tour Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, the site of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, emancipating enslaved persons, find themselves overcome by raw emotion. I’ve experienced that spontaneous impassioned response a few times.
This blog begins a series that explores those places that have a way of provoking the heart to respond with such overpowering emotion they leave an enduring impression on us and sometimes even permanently change us.
Today I return to a topic and place that has been dear to my heart–the Waldensian Valleys of Italy.
Foxe’s Book of Martyrs dedicates one page to the Waldensians. Yet, these relatively obscure people had a great impact on Christian Europe during the second millennium A.D. and helped set the stage for the Reformation in the sixteenth century. Their story of enduring faith and valor high in the Cottian Alps between France and Italy captivated my attention over a decade ago and set me on a journey that led me to the Waldensian valleys west of Turin, Italy to talk to local scholars and visit the many museums and sites dedicated to the Waldensian story throughout the region.
Monument of Sibaud: Bobbio Pellice, Italy, Donna’s Gallery
After spending several days combing the area, I became convinced the Waldensian story needed to be told. Whether the Waldensian narrative began in 1170 A.D., as is the official church position, or their ancestry is as ancient as the first-century church, it is a real-world drama that breathes life into a steadfast faith that stays the course no matter the cost. One of the many examples of Waldensian steadfast faith is the Cave of Faith where tradition says as many as 300 gathered in secret to worship. When the cave was discovered, however, they were smoked out of it and some died of smoke inhalation.
A remnant of Waldensians still exists in their home valleys in Italy, and they are always excited to talk to people about their history. They welcome visitors to step into the past and discover their historical roots. You can learn more about them at the Waldensian Cultural Center Foundation or Chiesa Valdese.
An interesting side note about the Waldensian story: In July 2015, Pope Francis made peace with the Waldensian faithful, asking forgiveness for crimes perpetrated by the church in past centuries. It was a monumental moment for the Waldensian Church.
(Original Version of this blog appeared November 4, 2020.)