The Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Italy

By Salvatore Caponetto; Anne C. Tedeschi et al. | Go to book overview

9
THE WALDENSIANS JOINS THE REFORMATION: CALVINISM IN THE PIEDMONT

THE WALDENSIANS ON THE EVE OF THE REFORMATION

THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE SWISS REFORMATION by the Waldensians of the Dauphinée, Provence, Piedmont, Calabria, and Puglia was an event of capital importance for the spread of the Protestant movement in the peninsula. The efforts of the Church of Rome and of the dukes of Savoy to prevent the valleys of the Pellice, the Chisone, and the Germanasca, along with the marquisate of Saluzzo, from becoming the Italian gateway for the introduction of heresy, suggests the real danger represented by this Protestant bridgehead on the soil of Catholic Italy.

The preoccupation was well founded and from the 1530s on began to alarm the papal Curia even more than was the case for Istria and Venice as entry points into Italy for the northern heresies. The transit of men and ideas, of heretical books, of broadsides decorated with blasphemous drawings, was a common occurrence in all the border areas--in the Trentino, Istria, Lombardy, and Piedmont--which enjoyed daily commercial contacts with Switzerland, Austria, and Germany where the Protestant doctrines of Zwingli, Luther, and Melanchthon circulated freely. Here and there in the Italian border areas small groups of sympathizers were occasionally discovered, but the situation was very different in Piedmont where eight thousand or so inhabitants of the Waldensian valleys threatened to pass en bloc to the Reformation.

Ecclesiastical and political authorities knew that sizable family groups existed in Piedmont, linked by an underground organization with centuries-long experience in religious dissimulation. At the dawn of the sixteenth century, the Waldensian movement, which in the Quattrocento had achieved a diaspora of European dimensions and together with the Bohemian brethren, had become an integral part of the "Waldensian-Hussite international," was greatly reduced after a century of persecutions. The missionary efforts had diminished the itinerant ministry of the "barbs," elders, so called from a designation common throughout northern Italy identifying

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