Italy - (Europa)
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The Ref presence in Italy has its roots in the medieval lay movement of the Waldensians. Around 1170 Peter Waldo of Lyon, France (the name Peter was given to him later as a title) started the movement of the “poor of Lyon.” It spread quickly, especially in Italy. In 1184 the movement was officially condemned by the Council of Verona, and the Waldensians were scattered around Europe. Many withdrew into the valleys of the Piemontese Alps. Waldensian history throughout the Middle Ages was a history of persecution and suffering. In the 15th century relations were established with the Hussite movement in Bohemia. At the Synod of Chanforan in 1532, in the presence of Farel and Saulnier, the Waldensians agreed to join the Reformation. But they continued to be exposed to severe persecution by both the Dukes of Piedmont and Savoy and the French kings. These culminated in 1655 in a cruel massacre, the so-called “Piemontese Easter.” After the revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1685) the Dukes of Piedmont and Savoy gave them the choice to renounce their faith or to emigrate. In 1689 a group of refugees, under the leadership of Henri Arnaud, took the risk of returning to the valleys — the “glorious return” — and were eventually granted permission to stay. 1848 marks a new stage in Waldensian history: through the Emancipation Edict of King Carlo Alberto they were given equal rights and could establish themselves in other parts of Italy. A theological faculty was founded in Torre Pellice (1855), moved to Florence (1860), and later (1920) to Rome. At the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, mainly for economic reasons, many Waldensians emigrated to Uruguay and Argentina and founded Waldensian churches there (cf. Uruguay). Gradually the church obtained more freedom. In connection with the Concordate between Italy and the Holy See (1929) the Waldensians were “tolerated”; the Constitution of 1948 guaranteed religious liberty, and finally in 1984 the Italian state signed an agreement granting the Waldensian church full recognition.
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