Thursday, July 4, 2024

A Real Life Story of Faith and Valor

By Donna Wichelman

If you’ve read my HHH blogs for any length of time, you may remember my series on French Chateaux and one in particular called Le Château De Lourmarin. Located in the region of Provence and the Luberon (hill country), I became fascinated by Le Château De Lourmarin when I discovered its history involving a community of pre-reformation Protestants known as Waldensians in the village of Lourmarin, France. The allure was based on having written two books in a romantic suspense series called the Waldensian Series.

Le Château De Lourmarin, May 2023 Donna's Gallery

Le Château De Lourmarin Gardens, May 2023 Donna's Gallery

Foxe’s Book of Martyrs dedicates less than a page to the Waldensians of the Cottian Alps west of Turin, Italy. Yet, their real-life story of valor and enduring faith in the midst of persecution in Europe throughout the second millennium AD touched and encouraged my heart so much, that I wanted to bring their story to life in a contemporary suspense novel that would give wings to courage and enduring faith in our time.

Historians debate the exact date and origins of the Waldensians, also known as the Vaudois or Valley Dwellers. Some have a compelling argument for the existence of this ancient sect, which originated with the first-century fathers, who settled in the Cottian Alps between France and Italy during a period of great persecution over the next two centuries. They continued to carry out their traditions into the second millennium.

The official Waldensian Church position says the movement began in 1170 A.D., when a rich merchant from Lyons, France converted to Christianity and took a vow of poverty. Others banded around Peter Waldo, and they became known as the Poor Men of Lyons. 

Regardless of which history is correct, a division arose between the Roman Catholic Church and the Waldensians by the end of the twelfth century. Though the Waldensians didn’t want to secede from the Roman Church, they hoped to sway the papacy to cease certain practices they said contradicted the Bible and the pure teachings of Christ.

The Waldensians also petitioned the papacy for various reforms, foremost among them were translating the Bible into the vernacular and allowing clergy to marry. The papacy would not concede to their position, calling Waldensians and any other Protestant sect heretics. Thus began centuries of martyrdom and persecution that helped set the stage for the Reformation in the sixteenth century.

Ancient School of the Barba Where Waldensians Translated the Bible into the Vernacular: Pra del Torno, Italy: Donna's Gallery 2006

Fast forward to the seventeenth century when Louis XIV became King of France in 1643. Believing he was God’s representative on earth and supported in that view by his mother, Louis brought on a renewed vigor to rid Europe of Protestant sects everywhere in Europe.

In 1655, a great persecution ensued, known as the Spring of Blood or the Piedmontese Easter. Men and women were flayed alive, burned at the stake, and drowned in lakes and ponds. Hundreds of Waldensian faithful were martyred for their faith.

By 1685, the Waldensians were forced from their homes in exile and fled over the mountains to Switzerland. Most wanted to return to their Alpine valleys and devised ways to make that happen. It wasn’t until the height of the Nine Year’s War in August 1689, when the tide of Europe turned against France, that William of Orange commissioned a militia made up of Waldensian and Huguenot soldiers to cross back over the mountains into their homelands in the Waldensian Valleys.

A Depiction of Waldensian Militia, Balziglia, Italy: Donna's Gallery, September 2015
Some of the French Peaks the Militia had to Cross Near Iseran, France During the Mini Ice Age: Donna's Gallery, September 2015
A Notable Ancient Bridge the Militia Crossed near Cluses, France: Donna's Gallery, September 2015

Under the leadership of Pastor Henri Arnaud, the soldiers braved not only French militia but the rains and snows of a mini ice age in the Alps, marching on foot for more than ten days from Yvoire on the south shore of Lake Geneva to their home valleys. They spent the better part of another year in Balziglia before they succeeded in defeating the French. At war’s end, the Protestant world hailed the Waldensians for their persevering faith and undying valor against all odds. They also received the honor and distinction of bringing their people back home in what became known as the Glorious Return.

A Copy of Henri Arnaud's Book on the History of the Glorious Return
Museum at Balziglia, Italy: Donna's Gallery, September 2015

Fortress and Museum at Balziglia, Italy: Donna's Gallery, September 2015
Waldensians lived in their ghetto valleys west of Turin for more than a hundred and fifty years under persecution. Then on 16, February 1848, the unified Italian government finally granted the Protestant church freedom to worship and assemble under the Declaration of Emancipation. On the seventeenth of February, local Waldensian assemblies lit bonfires in celebration of their civil liberties. Waldensians worldwide still light bonfires each year in commemoration of their freedoms.

A Typical Waldesnian House Furnished Simply in a Rodoretto: Donna's Gallery, September 2015
The largest group of Waldensians outside of Italy resides in Valdese, North Carolina. Each summer, the community puts on a festival of heritage, which includes a production called From This Day Forward in an amphitheater to honor the Waldensian's history. They’ve also constructed an outdoor replica of historical sites in Italy on their Trail of Faith. You can find more information about Valdese at

Replica of the Cave of Faith in the Angrogna Valley, Italy in Valdese, North Carolina: Donna's Gallery, 
The Waldensian story lives on as a testimony of a people whose valor and enduring faith withstood the test of time. This ought to encourage and strengthen Christians as we hear and read stories about those who are persecuted and martyred around the world in our time.

Post Script: In the summer of 2015, four months after I published Light Out of Darkness, the first book in my Waldensian Series, Pope Frances apologized to the Waldensians for a millennium of religious persecution. It was a momentous occasion for the descendants of this pre-reformation group.

More About the History of the Waldensians:
The History of the Waldenses by J.A. Wylie
You are My Witnesses: The Waldensians Across 800 Years by Giorgio Tourn
The Glorious Recovery by The Vaudois of their Valleys, by Henri Arnaud
Waldensian Cultural Centre, Torre Pellice, Italy

Weaving history and faith into stories of intrigue and redemption grew out of Donna's love of travel, history, and literature as a young adult while attending the United World College of the Atlantic--an international college in Wales, U.K. She enjoys exploring people and cultures of the world and developing plots that show how God's love abounds even in the profoundly difficult circumstances of our lives. Her stories reflect the hunger in all of us for love, belonging, and forgiveness.

Donna received her master's degree in mass communication/journalism from San Jose State University and became a communications professional before writing full-time. Her short stories and articles have appeared in inspirational publications. She has two indie-published romantic suspense novels, Light Out of Darkness and Undaunted Valor, in her Waldensian Series. Her Gilded Age historical romance, A Song of Deliverance, will be released by Scrivenings Press in December 2024.

Donna and her husband of forty years participate in ministry at their local church in Colorado. The love spending time with their grandchildren and bike, kayak, and travel whenever possible.

Beginning July 4th in honor of Independence Day and through July, Donna is running a Giveaway of The Last Will and Testament of Anne Charbonnier, a seventeenth-century short story prequel to her Waldensian Series. Of those who sign up for Donna's newsletter, one person will also receive four full-length contemporary and historical novels written by Scrivenings Press authors. Visit Donna's website at to receive your copy of The Last Will and Testament of Anne Charbonnier and enter the contest.


  1. Fascinating! My ancestors were persecuted Huguenots who emigrated to Montreal from France.

    1. What a legacy! I'm glad to know someone whose ancestors fought the good fight and finished the race!

  2. Awesome article. It's worth a trip to visit the town in North Carolina.

    1. It is definitely worth a trip. I hope you make it there one day.

  3. Thank you for posting today. I appreciate knowing more about the Waldensians.

    1. You're welcome, Connie. I'm glad you had the opportunity to learn about the Waldensians.