Twice in less than 24 hours—actually, within about 12 hours—I received notice from two friends* of two recent but very different news stories about the Waldensians. One was in here, in Friday’s New York Times, and the other was in here, in Ozarks Alive, only a few days before.  Coincidence or signs? To me, it was a double-sized sign—time to share.

Who, perhaps you ask, are the Waldensians? And why care to share?

A view of Torre Pellice, home of the Waldenisians, in Italy’s Piedmont

Waldensian Museum, Library and Cultural Center, Torre Pellice, Italy

Waldensian Museum, Library and Cultural Center, Torre Pellice, Italy

Both of these stories tell you who they are (a religious group who has fought for independence of thought and practice, often in the face of persecution) and their history and origins (12th century France and, later, Italy). The Ozarks Alive article speaks of some Waldensians’ 19th-century migration westward. One of two locales where Waldensians settled in the US is Monett, Missouri.

Both stories also celebrate the Waldensians strong beliefs in religious freedom and in social activism. The Times story points to contemporary Waldensians in Italy’s Piedmont helping with the resettling of Syrian refugees. The Ozarks Alive story focuses more on the history of those who migrated and the Ozarks’ settlement.

Both stories merit reading—they are heartwarming accounts for this dark time of year.

They tell us about long traditions of people trying to do right, in whatever ways they can. Sometimes the results flourish. Sometimes the small steps take people many miles.

They tell us about long traditions of people trying to do right, in whatever ways they can. Sometimes the results flourish. Sometimes the small steps take people many miles.

I learned about the Monett Waldensians in a weird way – sitting in the archives in Torre Pellice—a small community in the mountains of northern Italy. I had arrived during a sabbatical semester in 2015, driven to locate letters to and from a New Yorker named Emily Bliss Gould. Gould joined forces with Waldensian leaders after seeing their schools in the mountain villages near Turin in the 1860s. Drawn up in their beliefs in widespread education (as opposed to believing education was a privilege of the elite), Gould became a fundraiser among the wealthy back in New York. Funds she raised, sent to Italy, supported schools in Florence and in Rome. But Gould’s activism in Italy is another story for another place.**

Taking a break from my research in 2015, while I chatted with the archivist over coffee, he asked me whether I knew of the Waldensians in Missouri. I don’t know whether he or I was more surprised—that I knew nothing of them and yet lived less than an hour from Monett and frequently passed through it in route to northwest Arkansas!

Etta Madden in front of Waldensian library archive Italy

Here I am in front of the Waldensian library and archives, Torre Pellice, Italy

I wish I had read an article like Kaitlyn’s in Ozarks Alive before I arrived in Torre Pellice. Since that 2015 trip, I have met the historian and professor, Mark McMeley, mentioned in the article, who grew up in Monett, has lived in Torre Pellice, and frequently leads tour groups there. In fact, two years ago I had the privilege of visiting Torre Pellice again, this time with Mark’s guidance, and joined by a fantastic group of fellow travelers interested in “off the beaten path” sites and spiritual communities. Mark’s exuberant spirit and brilliant language skills added to the fun and uplifting learning. I’m sharing a few photos from those visits.

Enjoy the two linked stories above and the photos they provide as well.  And do let me know if you’re interested in a future trip to Torre Pellice. As always, you can sign up to follow my blog through my website. You’ll receive notifications in your email of new posts, rather than rely upon the whims of social media.

**Emily Bliss Gould and her work will be the star of a later letter.

*Thanks to Mark McMeley and Renee Arnaud Fogle. Both are from Monett and of Waldensian heritage.

Mark McMeley, left, with other group members, waiting for the cattle to pass before finishing our descent

Our group in front of a monument to the Waldensians’ heritage, on the hillside above Torre Pellice