On the night of 16th February it snowed – and it snowed – and it snowed !! Some of our team went out in the afternoon on the Waldensian Tour – a tour of the places in the valley which are significant in the history of the Waldensian reformatory movement and places where many were martyred for their faith! As you can see this meant wading thru a metre or so of snow! Could be fun but it also reminded them of the life the believers had to undergo when under seige from the Piemontese authorities and forbidden from reading the bible and preaching.
But 16th February is the anniversary of the passing of a law which gave political, civil and religious freedom to the Waldensian believers to practice their way of life and belief in Christ.
Much of the oppression came from the Roman Church and the nobility who supported them throughout Europe – while much of the political pressure for freedom of religion came from the reformed countries in Europe (England, Scotland, the reformed believers in France etc). On this night news came through to the believers in the Pellice Valley (where Torre Pellice is situated) that an act had been passed granting political, religious and civil freedom of expression for all of Italy including them. The freedom was limited in certain areas but it was a breakthrough which allowed them to preach in their own region and to practice their faith openly at least in theory.
To celebrate and to make this known throughout this mountainous valley they lit bonfires which could be seen burning all over the valley. Today they still celebrate this momentous day if their history by lighting candles and carrying them together in procession to large bonfires where they sing hymns together and give thanks to God for His care and love.
As we joined this procession to walk up to the bonfire I had a small giggle to myself when I saw what the large wind-proof candles said on them
‘Torcia Romana’ translates as ‘Roman torch/candle’ – which I found quite ironic in the face of the facts that it was the Roman Catholic church which was behind the persecution of the believers in the valley. This was the beginning of a wonderful evening as we walked up the hill as the snow fell and we gathered around a huge bonfire with about 150 local people and sang hymns together before warming ourselves at the fire as we shared a cup of vin brule (a bit like mulled wine). A really memorable evening but even more a wonderful reminder that our God is bigger than any political or religious authority who try to stand in the path of His gospel being proclaimed!!