The Waldensians are an example of how one group can suffer persecution and still survive and prosper. How did they do it for nearly 800 years? The answer lies at the core of the Waldensian doctrine: they focused on having a close relationship with Jesus Christ through the Bible and teaching.
In the late 12th century, Waldo of Lyons, a prosperous merchant, made three important decisions that would not only affect his life, but the lives of many who would choose to follow him. In essence, these three decisions formed the basis for the Waldensian doctrine. Waldo funded the transcription of several books of the Bible, he gave away all he had and was reduced to a beggar, and he determined to preach the gospel to all who would listen. Although the requirements to become a Waldensian were strict, many people joined Waldos group because they wanted a closer relationship with Jesus Christ.
From its beginning, the Waldensian church suffered much persecution because they were considered heretics. The Archbishop of Lyons attempted to stop Waldo and his followers from preaching the gospel and eventually excommunicated them from Lyons. The biggest act of atrocity against the Waldensians occurred in 1655, in an event known as the Piedmont Easter. During Easter week, 5,000 French soldiers were given permission to pillage the Waldensian settlements, killing over 1,700 Waldensians.
When Louis XIV assumed the throne in France, he focused on expelling the Waldensians. Louis revoked the Edict of Nantes which gave religious freedom to French Protestants. In 1686, another edict was issued that strictly prohibited Protestant assembly, and children were forced to be baptized in the church. Waldensian churches were burned, and Waldensian schoolmasters and pastors were given 15 days to choose between exile and renouncing their beliefs. Many church members chose exile and fled to northern Italy where they found refuge. However, their safety in Italy was soon jeopardized. In April of that year, the Waldensians rose up in arms under the direction of pastor Henry Arnaud, but they suffered a brutal defeat. In the course of this war with the Italian government, 2,000 Waldensians died, 2,000 renounced their beliefs, and 8,000 were imprisoned. After this brutal attack, the Waldensian church was reduced to 3,400, but still they did not give up.