Thursday, July 24, 2014

Pioneers of a Different Faith

This week we are in Utah celebrating the Pioneer Heritage we enjoy.  It's a state holiday here, and the families gather to remember.  Remembering is so crucial for us, and here is a story we would do well to remember.

On Sunday we sang Hymn #35, For the Strength of the Hills.  On the way home, Dave said, "I've always liked that hymn.  Most people don't realize it's about the Alps, not the Rocky Mountains."  He had remembered hearing a talk in our ward in Switzerland one time on the subject.  Our IQs demanded a little more knowledge on the subject, so I thought I'd pass along this amazing story of faith and perseverance of some early Christian pioneers, the Vaudois, also known as the Waldensians or Waldenses.

The more I read about these amazing people, the more I wanted to know. I ended up finding a book called, "The History of the Vaudois Church" by Antoine Monastier. He was a pastor of the church, one of the few whose family survived the persecutions and massacres. Though it is 450 pages and I'm not yet done reading, it I pulled some interesting information from the book.

The Vaudois Mountaineers were Christians who clung to the early truths of the gospel, and shared a lot of ideas with the later Protestant Reformation.  They recognized the pride and ambition in the church and refused the papal authority.  They detested all forms of idolatry and worshiping of Saints, and sought to keep the church as pure as the Bible taught.
The foundations of the Christian faith having been disturbed, the doctrines of the church underwent continual modifications, and a ritual of man's device supplanted the "worship of God in spirit and in truth." We shall not enter into the history of these changes; they have only an indirect connexion with our narrative, that is, in consequence of the resistance made to them by the faithful. For enabling us to understand subsequent events, it will be sufficient to recollect that the worship of images was generally introduced, and became an essential part of the Romish religion. The mass, originally designed to commemorate the sacrifice of the Saviour, gradually became itself a pretended sacrifice, though an unbloody one, of the body of Christ, for the remission of the sins both of the living and the dead. Twenty popes, probably, have contributed to form the canon of the mass, each one of them devising some new forms, some additions to its ceremonial. Having commenced so promising an undertaking, why should they stop short? They proceeded to invent purgatory, indulgences, penances, vigils, fastings, Lent, dispensations, auricular confession, extreme unction, absolution, and masses for the dead, - all but so many means of entangling souls, and holding them in a fatal security, as well as of attracting to the church a tremendous authority and boundless wealth.  The History of the Vaudois Church" by Antoine Monastier, Chapter II

I wish I would have realized the significance of the hymn while we lived in Switzerland, for we lived in the Canton of Vaud and I would have tried to visit some of the mountain refuges they sought.  They now live in Torre Pellice, Italy.

Located in the Cottian Alps, on the Italian/Swiss/French borders, they were under the influence of Bishop Claude of Turin, who was accused of starting his own sect:

" I have received," he says, " by a certain country car- 
rier, your epistle, full of prate and nonsense, 
in which you declare that you have been troubled, because 
a report has been spread to my discredit from Italy through 
all Gaul, and even as far as Spain, that I preach in order to 
form a new sect, contrary to the rule of the Catholic faith, 
which is totally false ; but it is not strange if the members 
of Satan speak of me in this manner, since they called our 
Lord a seducer and demoniac. For I, who remain in the 
unity, (of the church,) and proclaim the truth, aim at 
forming no new sect ; but, as far as lies in my power, I 
repress sects, schisms, superstitions, and heresies ; I have 
combated, overthrown, and crushed them, and, by God's 
assistance, I shall not cease to do so to the utmost. And 
since, contrary to my wishes, I have been charged with the 
burden of a bishopric, and sent by the pious Louis, a son 
of God's holy church, and have arrived in Italy, I have 
found at Turin all the basilicks filled with execrable im- 
purities and images, contrary to the commands of the truth 
(of the gospel) ; and as I alone have overturned all these 
things that others adore, it is against me alone that they 
are embittered. For this they have all opened their mouths 
to calumniate me ; and if the Lord had not been on my 
side, they would probably have devoured me alive. The 
prohibition so clearly expressed, Thou shalt not make unto 
thee the likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or 
that is in the earth beneath, etc., applies not only to the 
likenesses of strange gods, but also to those of celestial 
beings, and whatever the human mind can invent in honour 
of the Creator. The History of the Vaudois Church" by Antoine Monastier, Chapter III 

I can't help but think that the adversary targeted and hounded those Saints who sought to keep the gospel pure, the Vaudois included.  He didn't know where or when the Lord would raise up another prophet to re-establish his Church on the earth.  These people were chased from the open county and forced to take refuge in the mountains.  Most of the Vaudois parishes were located in the Alpine valleys of the Piedmont: Lucerna, Perouse and San Martino, known as Les Vallees Vaudoises (the Protestant Valleys of Piedmont).
In 1476 the Duchess of Savoy ordered her commanders to use any means in their power to compel the Vaudois to join the Catholic Church. In 1437 Pope Innocent VIII proclaimed a general crusade against them, and "summoned all the Catholic powers of Europe to take up arms for their extermination. Absolution was freely offered to all who should participate.
In 1560 a new crusade was organized against them by the Pope. All the villages were to be ravaged and destroyed, unless the people embraced Catholicism. Instead, the Vaudois abandoned their valley homes for mountain retreats and fastnesses, hiding in caves and fissures of the rocks. The ideal defensive nature of the terrain helped them several times to defeat large numbers of attackers with only a few defenders. One attack by 1200 soldiers was defeated by 50 Vaudois.
The treaty of 5 June 1561 granted amnesty to the Protestants of the Valleys, including liberty of conscience and freedom to worship. Prisoners were released and fugitives were permitted to return home. The Reformation was also somewhat benificial to the Vaudois, with the religious reformers showing them respect, but they still suffered in the Wars of Religion (1562-1598).
In 1655 the Duke of Savoy commanded the Vaudois to attend Mass or remove to the upper Valleys, giving them twenty days in which to sell their lands. In a most severe winter these targets of persecution old men, women, little children and the sick "waded through the icy waters, climbed the frozen peaks, and at length reached the homes of their impoverished brethren of the upper Valleys, where they were warmly received." There they found refuge and rest. Deceived by false reports of Vaudois resistance, the Duke sent an army. On 24 April 1655, at 4 a.m., the signal was given for a general massacre, the horrors of which can be detailed only in small part.
This massacre became known as the Piedmont Easter.  The Catholic forces did not simply slaughter the inhabitants. They are reported to have unleashed an unprovoked campaign of looting, rape, torture, and murder. According to one report by a Peter Liegé:
Little children were torn from the arms of their mothers, clasped by their tiny feet, and their heads dashed against the rocks; or were held between two soldiers and their quivering limbs torn up by main force. Their mangled bodies were then thrown on the highways or fields, to be devoured by beasts. The sick and the aged were burned alive in their dwellings. Some had their hands and arms and legs lopped off, and fire applied to the severed parts to staunch the bleeding and prolong their suffering. Some were flayed alive, some were roasted alive, some disemboweled; or tied to trees in their own orchards, and their hearts cut out. Some were horribly mutilated, and of others the brains were boiled and eaten by these cannibals. Some were fastened down into the furrows of their own fields, and ploughed into the soil as men plough manure into it. Others were buried alive. Fathers were marched to death with the heads of their sons suspended round their necks. Parents were compelled to look on while their children were first outraged [raped], then massacred, before being themselves permitted to die. "History of the Waldenses – J. A. Wylie". 
An estimate of some 1,700 Waldensians were slaughtered; the massacre was so brutal it aroused indignation throughout Europe. Protestant rulers in northern Europe offered sanctuary to the remaining Waldensians. Oliver Cromwell, then ruler in England, began petitioning on behalf of the Waldensians; writing letters, raising contributions, calling a general fast in England and threatening to send military forces to the rescue. (The massacre prompted John Milton's famous poem on the Waldenses, "On the Late Massacre in Piedmont".
In 1685 Louis V revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had guaranteed freedom of religion to his Protestant subjects. In the renewed persecution, an edict decreed that all inhabitants of the Valleys should publicly announce their error in religion within fifteen days under penalty of death and banishment and the destruction of all the Vaudois churches. Armies of French and Piedmontese soldiers invaded the Valleys, laying them waste and perpetrating cruelties upon the inhabitants.
The 15,000 Vaudois had about 2,500 capable of bearing arms against the combined might of France and Savoy. For three days they held off the attackers, then surrendered to false promises of peace. Their surrender was followed by devastation in every hamlet and atrocious barbarities. The entire population of the survivors was thrust into the dungeons of thirteen prisons. After six months only three thousand remained alive.
The half-starved remnants were released and banished from their homes. Hundreds of children were forcibly torn from their parents to be reared as Catholics. With many perishing on the journey, the remaining adults crossed the Alps to a place of refuge in Switzerland, and were eventually welcomed by the Protestant states of Switzerland, Germany, and Holland.
Three years later, a band of 800 led by Henri Arnaud, their soldier-pastor, assembled on the shores of Lake Geneva, re-crossed the Alps amid incredible hardships, and retook their native Valleys. They defeated a force of 2,000 French, inflicting upon them a loss of 700 men, to only 22 of their own. They later held out for two months against an army of 20,000. Forced to take refuge on the heights of the Balsille, they spent the winter on this lonely rock. By now there were only 400 left, resisting the combined armies of France and Savoy.
Spain, Austria and England had declared war against France. The Duke of Savoy joined them, granting peace and protection to his Vaudois subjects, and permitted them to return to their homes in the Alpine Valleys, promising them toleration in religion. Back came the Vaudois from distant lands where they had been scattered, Switzerland, Germany, Holland and England. Never again were they to be removed.
Napoleon conquered the Piedmont, but under him they enjoyed genuine religious freedom, and he protected them in their rights. Following his defeat in 1814, they were again cruelly persecuted. On 17 February 1848, the King of Sardinia granted his Vaudois subjects freedom of religion on an equality with his other subjects. The 800-year war between Rome and the mountain Church was ended.
Suddenly the hymn "For the Strength of the Hills" is so much more poignant.  Here are the original words penned by Felicia Hemans, a Vaudois:
Hymn of the Vaudois Mountaineers in Times of Persecution

For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God!
Thou hast made thy children mighty,
By the touch of the mountain sod.
Thou hast fix'd our ark of refuge,
Where the spoiler's foot ne'er trod;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God!

We are watchers of a beacon
Whose light must never die;
We are guardians of an altar
Midst the silence of the sky;
The rocks yield founts of courage,
Struck forth as by thy rod;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God!

For the dark resounding caverns,
Where thy still, small voice is heard;
For the strong pines of the forest,
That by thy breath are stirr'd;
For the storms on whose free pinions
Thy spirit walks abroad;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God!

The royal eagle darteth
On his quarry from the heights,
And the stag that knows no master,
Seeks there his wild delights;
But we, for thy communion,
Have sought the mountain sod,
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God !

The banner of the chieftain,
Far, far below us waves;
The war-horse of the spearman
Cannot reach our lofty caves:
Thy dark clouds wrap the threshold
Of freedom's last abode ;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers' God !

For the shadow of thy presence,
Round our camp of rock outspread;
For the stern defiles of battle,
Bearing record of our dead;
For the snows and for the torrents,
For the free heart's burial sod;
For the strength of the hills we bless thee.
Our God, our fathers' God!
No wonder this hymn resonated with the early pioneers, and Edward L. Sloan adapted it to include this hymn in our Latter-day hymnal,  Stories of similar hardships and sacrifice accompany those who want to follow God's pathways.

Interestingly enough, Apostle Lorenzo Snow was called to open a mission in Italy. He sought the Lord for guidance as to where to begin his missionary labors. He recorded these impressions:
As I contemplated the condition of Italy, with deep solicitude to know the mind of the
Spirit as to where I should commence my labors, I found that all was dark in Sicily, and
hostile laws would exclude our efforts. No opening appeared in the cities of Italy; but
history of the Waldenses attracted my attention. 
Amid the ages of darkness and cruelty, they had stood immovable almost as the wave
beaten rock in the stormy ocean. When the anathemas of Rome shook the world and
princes fell from their thrones, they dared to brave the mandate of the Pope and the
armies of the mighty. To my mind they appeared as the rose in the wilderness, or the bow in the cloud. The night of time has overspread their origin; but these dissenters from
Rome existed ages before Luther was born. During the fierce persecutions to which they
have been subjected, their limits have greatly decreased. 
A few narrow valleys, which in some places are only a bowls shot in breadth, are all that
now remain in their possession except the mountains by which they are engirdled. But a
period of deep calm has at length arrived, and since the storm of persecution swept over
Europe they have received many privileges from the Sardinian Government.. Thus the
way was opened only a short period before the appointment of this mission, and no other
portion of Italy is governed by such favorable lairs. 
A few flood of light seemed to burst upon my mind when I thought upon the subject, and
I endeavored to procure some information in relation to this people. The librarian to
whom I applied informed me he had a work of the description I requested, but it had just
been taken. He had scarcely finished the sentence, when a lady entered with the book.
"O," said he, "this is remarkable; this gentleman has just called for that book." I was soon
convinced that this people were worthy to receive the first proclamation of the Gospel in

James E. Faust gave a conference talk called "The Keys that Never Rust" in October 1994.   He told a brief history of the Vaudois and then praised these valiant saints for "[clinging] on tenaciously, turning back whole armies of tyrants, to preserve their precious heritage of faith in the early Apostles, who held the keys that never rust."
In 1850, Elder Lorenzo Snow of the Council of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints ascended a very high mountain near LaTour [Torre Pellice] to visit the Vaudois of the Piedmont. He and his two companions stood on a bold projecting rock, where he proclaimed that Joseph Smith had seen the Father and the Son and had restored the gospel in its fulness and completeness. He testified that the keys of the holy Apostleship had been restored. He further testified that there were indeed living Apostles and prophets upon the earth. Many believed his startling message and joined the Church. Moved by his experience with the Vaudois living in the Alpine mountain valleys, President Snow cited the stirring words:
For the strength of the hills we bless thee,
Our God, our fathers’ God;
Thou hast made thy children mighty
By the touch of the mountain sod.

John Daniel Malan was the first of the Vaudois to be baptized on October 27, 1850, followed by the families of the Cardons, Stalles, Beuses, Pons, Malans, Gaudins, Chatelains, and many others. Some were in the first handcart companies to come to the Salt Lake Valley in the early 1850s. These families intermarried into other well-known families in the western United States, including the Larsons, Maughans, Crocketts, Miners, Budges, Thatchers, Steeds, and Parkinsons. Drawing from their roots in the Vaudois mountain sod, many of their descendants tended the vineyards of the newly restored Church and today are making singular contributions to the worldwide Church, believing, as did their forebears, that Apostles hold the keys that never rust.

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