Why Some Historic Places Leave A Lasting Impression On Us

Donna Wichelman Uncategorized

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.

Waldensian Church Headquarters, Torre Pellice, Italy, Donna’s Gallery

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.                                                                                                                                                                          

I began my quest at the Waldensian Museum of Torre Pellice, which provides a survey through eight centuries of Waldensian history, archaeology, and ethnographic development: their religious dissidence, the Protestant Reformation, Religious Wars, Waldensian exile and their Glorious Return, their grant of civil rights in the nineteenth century, and twentieth-century events that changed the way the church engages with the world. With these pictures in mind, I set out to roam the rest of the valley.

Monument of Sibaud: Bobbio Pellice, Italy, Donna’s Gallery

Some say this courageous group banded together in 1170 A.D., when merchant Peter Waldo took a vow of poverty and appealed to the pope to consider their grievances. Others have suggested that these great men and women of faith came down from the first-century church and carried on the traditions of their ancestors throughout the first two millennia A.D.

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.

Cave of Faith: Angrogna Valley, Italy, Donna’s Gallery

The Waldensian story so impassioned and inspired me that it took on a life of its own in a contemporary romantic suspense series. I wanted to create compelling circumstances for my protagonists in the present that mimicked a need to run the course and finish the race as their ancestors had done through their enduring faith and courage in the past.

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
But one doesn’t have to go to Italy if they live in North America. A community of Waldensians lives in Valdese, North Carolina. Each summer they reproduce their history in an outdoor amphitheater where they present the drama From This Day Forward. They’ve also constructed to scale an outdoor replica of the historical sites in Italy on their Trail of Faith. There are also other Waldesnian-related museums as well as things to do at the foot of the Blue Ridge Mountains. Visit their tourist office to get more information.
Mural Telling the Waldensian Story, Town Square, Valdese, N.C.

Replica of the Cave of Faith: Valdese, North Carolina

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.)