the weblog of Alan Knox

Waldensians in North Carolina

Posted by on Jun 21, 2010 in church history | 10 comments

Waldensians in North Carolina

Last Saturday, I drove Margaret and Miranda half way to Tennessee to meet Margaret’s sister. Margaret and Miranda went back to Tennessee to spend a week with them. We picked the place to meet based on a restaurant recommendation.

We met in a small town called Valdese, NC. As we were driving through the town, we noticed several signs about the Waldensians. That was when I made the connection between Valdese, NC and the Waldensians.

Are you familiar with the Waldensians? They were a pre-reformation group of Christians who were persecuted by the established church. While some claim connections to the apostles, most historians agree that the Waldensians began in the 12th century with Peter Waldo.

Waldo was a wealthy merchant who gave up all his riches and began preaching the gospel in the streets of Lyon, France in 1177. While the church was glad that Waldo was interested in preaching the gospel, the pope commanded Waldo to cease from preaching until he was given permission by the local clergy. Waldo, and those with him, continued proclaiming the gospel, and were therefore labeled as heretics.

They faced continuing persecution for the next several hundred years in France and Italy. They even survived a crusade against them. While they shared many beliefs with the Catholic Church and remained on the edge of Catholicism, they officially moved away from the Catholic Church in the early 1500’s, when they adapted their beliefs to the Reformed Church and joined the reformation.

They continued to face persecution and were almost wiped out in the 19th century. In the late 1800’s, many Italian Waldensians emigrated to the United States to cities like New York City, Chicago, Galveston, and Rochester. Some Waldensians from the Italian Alps moved to the small town of Valdese, NC which now claims to be the largest Waldensian settlement.

There are several historic locations in and around Valdese, NC. There is also an open air play about the history of the Waldensians put on there every summer.

It was great to see a little bit of church history played out just down the road from where I live.

Peter Waldo and those with him refused to stop proclaiming the gospel in spite of persecution and death. I think we could all learn from the Waldensians.


Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 6-21-2010

    I’ve just recently finished reading “The Reformers and Their Stepchildren” about the Anabaptists during the Reformation and their history going all the way back to Donatists who stood up against Constantine and then Augustine. The Waldensians are part of that history. I am moving to Reidsville, NC next week, so my family and I will have to take time to visit Valdese after we settle in. Thanks for the info!

  2. 6-21-2010

    What exactly was the gospel they proclaimed? Was it authentic? Do you know?

  3. 6-21-2010

    Here is an article on the topic:

    Here is an excerpt: They did not build fancy buildings. They did not own lots of land, or have political power. All they had was the simple word of the Gospel. Jesus Saves.

  4. 6-21-2010

    Here is an article which gives the other (and somewhat less polemical) side of the story (just to be balanced):

    I still would like to know what gospel they preached and was it authentic or was it in error? I find it hard to accept that the Church simply wanted to suppress them over a turf war.

  5. 6-22-2010

    Brian, what qualifies as an “authentic” gospel in your opinion? I am curous since you reference a website that is a Roman Catholic apologetics page dedicated to “The Immaculate Heart of Mary” and which describes the Waldensians right out of the gate as a “heretical sect” (a label applied to virtually every non-Catholic group by the Catholic Encyclopedia). I am not sure how balanced and non-polemical that is. The bigger question is that even if they were preaching an inauthentic Gospel, does that justify the perseuction and murder of Waldensians?

  6. 6-22-2010


    If you visit Valdese, please tell us about it.


    From your link, this is their heresy: “Among the doctrinal errors which they propagated was the denial of purgatory, and of indulgences and prayers for the dead. They denounced all lying as a grievous sin, refused to take oaths and considered the shedding of human blood unlawful. They consequently condemned war and the infliction of the death penalty.”

    I think if they had denied the gospel of Jesus Christ, that would have been included in the Catholic reasons for persecuting them, don’t ya think?


    It’s hard to find anything non-polemical these days, isn’t it?


  7. 6-23-2010

    Anytime the beast in the form of Roman Catholic or Protestant civil violence religions want to destroy and persecute you, you know your on the right track. Being labeled as a heretic for following the teachings of Christ can at times be expected:

    Matthew 5:10 – Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

    Matthew 5:11-12: – “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

    Matthew 24:9 – “Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.

    Luke 21:12 – “But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name.

    John 15:20 – Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.

  8. 6-23-2010


    I’ve often wondered what those statements mean for those of us who are not persecuted…


  9. 6-23-2010

    Good point and question Alan. Obviously there are parts of the world where making a firm stand for the gospel and ordering ones life by the teachings of Christ will result in real persecution. Although I have never really been persecuted especially not in the way the various Anabaptist groups have been, I have noticed a little more hostility from people who formerly named me as a friend and briother since fully embracing Jesus’ teaching on non-violence, turning the other cheek, loving enemies and not resisting an evil man, I think it makes them uncomfortable since many of their children are in the military and profess to be born again (and no I don’t think in every instance that someone who is serving in the military and has killed someone is unregenerate, but it is always sin/ a violation of the commands of Christ-I think many serve out of ignorance of the nature of Christ’s new covenant and His peaceable Kingdom). But I really think teh real reason, I’m not being persecuted more severly is probably contained within this verse:

    2 Timothy 3:11-13 (New International Version)

    persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.

    I think my life may not be a sufficiently irritating rebuke to the world system.

  10. 6-23-2010


    “I think my life may not be a sufficiently irritating rebuke to the world system.”

    That may be the most stinging rebuke any of us can have amidst our comfy lives as Christians in America, that we are not considered worth persecuting by the unbelieving world.