Waldensians  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

The Waldensians (also known variously as Waldenses, Vallenses, Valdesi or Vaudois) are a Christian movement and religious cultural group which appeared first in Lyon and spread to the Cottian Alps in the late 1170s. Today, the Waldensian movement is centered on Piedmont in northern Italy, while small communities are also found in southern Italy, Argentina, Germany, the United States, and Uruguay.

The movement originated in the late twelfth century as the Poor Men of Lyons, a band organized by Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant who gave away his property around 1173, preaching apostolic poverty as the way to perfection. Waldensian teachings quickly came into conflict with the Roman Catholic Church. By 1215, the Waldensians were declared heretical and subject to intense persecution; the group was nearly annihilated in the seventeenth century and were confronted with organized and generalized discrimination in the centuries that followed.

During the sixteenth century, Waldensian leaders embraced the Protestant Reformation and joined various local Protestant regional entities. As early as 1631, Protestant scholars–and Waldensian theologians themselves–began to regard the Waldensians as early forerunners of the Reformation who had maintained the apostolic faith in the face of Catholic oppression. Modern Waldensians share core tenets with Reformed Protestants, for example, including the priesthood of all believers, congregational polity, and a "low" view of certain sacraments such as the Lord's Supper and Baptism. They are members of the Leuenberger Konkordie (Community of Protestant Churches in Europe) and its affiliates world wide.

Congregations continue to be active in Europe, South America, and North America, most of them under the label of the Waldensian Evangelical Church, but also within various German Landeskirchen. Organizations such as the American Waldensian Society maintain the history of this movement and declare they take as their mission "proclaiming the Christian Gospel, serving the marginalized, promoting social justice, fostering inter-religious work, and advocating respect for religious diversity and freedom of conscience."

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