The Catholic Church’s Persecution of the Waldenses

By Dr. Mike Magee | 12 December 2002

A 19th-century print by Gustave Dore showing the massacre of the Waldensians of Merindol in France in 1545. (Image: Wikipedia / Public Domain)

To counter the Waldenses, Innocent III formed the “Poor Catholics” to do what Waldenses were doing under the auspices of the Church. Thus the peasants could be fooled into thinking Catholics were as poor as the Waldenses, and did similar things while the priests continued to live like the feudal princes they were, in luxury.

In 1211, more than eighty Waldenses were burned for heresy. The Church Council of 1215 was directed against them, and then the Inquisition. This was the beginning of centuries of persecution. So many were imprisoned by the end of the thirteenth century that the Church directed Catholics to collect charity to feed them. The magnitude of their persecution is shown by the fact that in one year, in Italy alone, nine thousand Waldensians were killed and another twelve thousand were put into prison, where most of them died. In 1393, at Grenoble, 150 were burnt on a single occasion.

In spite of this, somehow the itinerant Waldensian preachers were able to maintain links throughout Europe. The Waldensians went underground and withdrew to other countries, especially Italy, Switzerland, and Austria, particularly the Alpine valleys of the Vaudois, named after them. These valleys were too inaccessible for the inquisitors, and Waldenses from north and south took refuge there. It became the center of their religion.

In 1487, pope Innocent VIII issued a bull for their extermination. A crusade against them looked like succeeding until a fog descended, confusing the Catholics and allowing them to be defeated. It was a setback and Charles II, the Duke of Piedmont was persuaded to leave them be. Waldenses in Germany joined the Hussites and the Bohemian Brethren, only to suffer more persecution.

The Waldenses were living in the valleys of Piedmont in the seventeenth century. The Church exercised its authority on the Duke Charles Emmanuel II of Savoy who ordered that the Vaudois region should be reduced. The attorney of the Duke in 1655 ordered all of them to become Roman Catholics or lose their property and lives. The army used to enforce the order was made up of Frenchmen from Louis XIV’s army and Irishmen who had fled from Cromwell. The people were treated with horrible barbarity.

Before long, mobs were rampaging over the estates of the Waldenses. After the men had been killed or chased into the mountains, the women were beheaded and their children had their brains dashed out. In the towns of Villaro and Bolbio, those over 15 years old who refused mass were crucified upside down. Younger children were throttled.

Nothing now could be seen but the face of horror and despair. Blood stained the floors of houses, dead bodies strewed the streets, groans and cries were heard from all parts.

The Duke’s soldiers were even worse. They made a point of mutilating any Waldensian that they caught before they killed them. Often they were simply left to die of their wounds, or of starvation, because they were too injured to move to seek nourishment. Mary Reymondet had her flesh stripped from her bones slice by slice in a manner reminiscent of Hypatia, a thousand years before. She died in a frightful state. Giovanni Pelanchion was tied with one leg to a mule and was dragged through the town while pelted with stones. Ann Charboniere was impaled with a stake and left to die.

Others were suspended from trees or the beams of their own homes by iron hooks stuck through their abdomens. Bartholemew Frasche had holes bored through his heels, through which a rope was passed and he was dragged to a dungeon and left to die. Daniel Rambart had a joint of a finger or toe amputated each day. Some people had packets of gunpowder forced into their mouths and lit. Drowning, suffocation and burning at the stake were all common. Sara Rastignole des Vignes refused to recite Jesus Maria so had a sickle stuck into her vagina. Martha Constantine was raped and killed by having her breasts cut off.

A servant of Jacopo Michalino was tortured by being stabbed many times in the souls of his feet and in his ears. Then his penis was cut off and the bleeding wound cauterized with a candle, so that he did not bleed to death and would suffer longer. Then his torturers tore off his nails with hot pincers. Still he would not recant his religion, so they tied him to a mule and dragged him through the streets of Bolbio. Finally they killed him by tying a staff to his head with cords and twisting it off his body.

Children were killed in front of their parents by being decapitated or cut to pieces. Mary Pelanchion was hung naked from a bridge and used as target practice. Cypriana Bastia said he would rather be dead than a Catholic, so he was half-starved with some dogs and then fed to them. Jacopo de Ronc had his nails pulled out by red hot pincers, then was led through the streets being alterbnately bludgeoned and having a strip of flesh cut from him.

These murders continued in the Piedmont valleys until they were almost depopulated. Those who were not tortured to death but fled to the mountains died there of starvation or disease. Despite the outrage of Protestant Europe, the army of occupation remained and Vaudois worship was curtailed. Their chief pastor, Leger, had to flee to Leyden where he wrote his History of the Vaudois Church (1684). The Waldensians survived until the sixteenth century, when they joined the Protestant Reformation.

Let a Catholic sum up. Lord Acton, one of the few respected Catholic historians and famous for his epithet, “Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely”, wrote a letter to another of the few, Lady Blennerhasset:

The accomplices of the Old Man of the Mountains [the classic assassins of history] picked off individual victims, but the papacy contrived murder and massacre on the largest and also on the most cruel and inhuman scale. They were not only wholesale assassins, but they also made the principle of assassination a law of the Christian Church and a condition of salvation.

This murderous oppression continued as late as 1860, according to J McCabe. In the previous 40 years, 300,000 people had been murdered in Spain, Italy and Portugal supposedly as armed rebels, but mainly ordinary people simply claiming what we now regard as human rights.

The Waldenses: Massacre at Castelluzzo | Episode 43 | Lineage

Pope to Waldensian Church: Forgive us!

The Inquisition On A Christian Sect | Secret Files of The Inquisition

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