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.