Why are these churches called Waldensian as well as protestant?
VALDO (hence Valdese = Waldensian), a merchant of Lyons who lived only a short time before St. Francis, following a deep spiritual crisis, decided to follow the example of the apostles, living literally as a disciple of Christ. Accordingly, he sold all his possessions and dedicated himself to the preaching of the Gospel. It was not his intention to defy the Church when he made this decision but rather, trying to live like the apostles, he wanted to help bring about its renewal; instead, he and his adherents were excommunicated.
The Waldensian movement, also known as "the poor of Lyons" in France and "the poor Lombardi" in Italy, continued to spread through Europe, meeting with favour among the people.
Like all so-called "heretical" movements, it was soon repressed and persecuted by the civil and religious authorities. Despite the difficulties and the pursuit of the Inquisition, the movement maintained its unity and spread throughout mediaeval Europe. The Waldensians established their communities mainly in the areas of the Cottian Alps, Provence, Calabria and southern Germany. Their itinerant preachers were called "barba" (a dialect word for "uncle", meaning a distinguished person), from which word derived "barbetti",a popular name used until recent times in Piemonte.
The cohesive testimony of the movement, which was given steadfastly from the 12th to the 16th centuries, was centred around two aspects of the Christian message: faithfulness to the Gospel and the poverty of the Church. The Church bears the name of Christ, the Waldensians said, therefore it must keep to the letter his teachings, renouncing all political power, the use of force and all alliance with the authorities of this world.
The Waldensians adhered to the newly dawned Reformation in Europe in 1532, organizing alternative communities to that of Rome; local preachers led their worship and celebrated the sacraments.
The protestant witness reached many other cities in Piemonte and Italy in that period and Catholicism maintained its supremacy only thanks to the action of the Counter-Reformation and the support of the princes.
Due to a number of favourable circumstances the Waldensians were able to obtain the recognition of their faith in a precise area of the Cottian Alps. This group of just a few thousand protestants formed an outpost of European Protestantism for almost three centurues.
The sovereigns of France and Piemonte, however, did not abandon their project to win them back to the Catholic faith. The tragic moments of 1655, when the massacre known as the "Piedmont Easter" took place, raised the indignant protest of Europe and the action of the England of Cromwell. Another dramatic event took place in 1685, when Louis XIV of France forbade the protestants to profess their religion and the Waldensian churches of Piemonte were also destroyed. Only a few survivors, escaping from severe persecution, found refuge in Switzerland, returning after three years in a memorable trek known as the "Glorious Return".