Kate Orson says following in the footsteps of the Waldensians in Italy made her grateful for freedom and challenged her to start memorising scripture 


Up in the mountainous region of Piemonte in Northern Italy there is a story that the devil thinks he won.

It’s the story of a group of believers known as the Waldensians who were persecuted and killed for their refusal to renounce the Christian faith.

The movement was named after Peter Waldo who, in around 1140, sold all his possessions to spend his life preaching the gospel. Waldo gathered a group of followers who were declared heretics by the Catholic church.

I spent a weekend following in their footsteps, albeit in much safer circumstances.


Our tour guide drove us up winding Angrogna mountains, to a Waldensian Temple, perched on a hilly crag, overlooking snowy mountains. The Waldensians called their buildings ‘tempios’ to distinguish them from the Catholic church. Stepping inside, I noticed the place was filled with light. The windows are clear glass, welcoming in the bright sunshine, and a view of the wild landscape. It is a stark contrast to the dimly lit stained glass windows of many Catholic churches, and it’s fitting for a movement whose motto is ‘Lux Lucet In Tenebris,’ latin for ‘Light shining in darkness’. These words are displayed on the crest above the church door. 


On the altar a Bible faces outwards towards the people. For the Waldensians, the Bible was to be read, rather than heard about via a priest. Waldensians sewed secret pockets in their clothes, and carried tiny Bibles to prevent discovery. They went out into the world of work and study to share the good news. They carried pages of the Bible which had been copied by hand to give to those who they perceived to be open to hearing about spiritual matters.

We headed a little further up the mountain to visit a dwelling where the Waldensians stayed to study the Bible. 

The next stop is the college of the Barbs. This is where Waldensians came to study and live. The Waldensians leaders were known as Barbas, an Italian word for uncle. Winters would be spent meditating and memorising scripture. Some managed to memorise the entire New Testament.

I’m struck by this amazing God-given ability to keep such a vast number of words in our minds. I’m also pondering if in our modern lives, with so much distraction, we could ever manage to do the same.

Planning Your Visit

After experiencing a higher level of spiritual warfare than normal after returning from my trip, I spoke to missionary friends, and realised that my experience was not uncommon.

Aurora, a missionary who visits the Valdese mountains yearly told me, “I think that land is really important to God. Something really important happened here, with these people finding freedom, training themselves and then going out to share the gospel, and the powers that be didn’t like that. One of the things God’s been really impressing on me, is he tells us to remember. He is a God of history. Just as the Jews celebrated Passover to remember what God did for them, visiting places like this can give us the opportunity to learn what God’s done, and learn more of who God is.

“I think that the enemy doesn’t want people to come and be aware of what God did there. We have visited with missionaries who have been all over the world training people in Thailand, India, and Russia. Our colleagues said that they had never experienced such a strong degree of spiritual warfare as they did in this area. There is a spirit of division operating, trying to divide people, and break unity in the spirit.”

Aurora advises those planning a visit to be prayerful, and aware, and put on the full armour of God.

Risking death to go to church

Our final stop on the trip is a cave where the Waldensians gathered to worship, and hide. Light shines through gaps in the cave roof, and I wonder what they thought as they stood here in the darkness, holding fast to their faith in God. History books talk of a mysterious fog that enveloped soldiers at one point during the persecution. It sounds like something out of the Old Testament, but it’s a reminder; God is always there, and miracles still happen.


It’s sobering thinking of what the Waldensians went through, being smoked out of their hiding places and then killed one by one, having their children thrown off cliffs, risking death simply to go to church.

On a rainy Sunday, I don’t always feel in the mood for the long trip to my nearest evangelical church. But the Waldensians are an example to us all. Their stories beg the challenging question: would we have the strength to hold fast to the faith amid such persecution? 

As we wind our way back down the mountain I’m feeling inspired to try memorising some scripture. And I’m feeling safe in the knowledge that even as the world appears to be getting darker, God is there shining bright.

If you are looking for a way to reflect and deepen your faith, this is one pilgrimage not to be missed.