Flying Waldensians

After Lateran Council IV The ‘Imperial Church’ put an end to the introduction of any new religious order by establishing Canon 13 which forbids the establishment of new religious orders, lest too great diversity bring confusion into the Church. The Franciscans, the Benedictines, Capuchins, and the Carmelites made it just in time. Interestingly, Valdo, founder of the Waldensians was burned at the stake after the judgement he received from a Benedictine monk. Suppose they had to control the competition.

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.


We’re about halfway through my Magic & Witchcraft in Early Modern Europe course and I haven’t even got to the witch trials yet, most likely much to my students’ frustration.  For foundation, I drag them through centuries of medieval history and theology to get them to understand the initial connection between witchcraft and heresy.  I could probably accomplish this task in a much shorter time, simply by presenting the image below in full context.

These flying women are included in the marginalia of the manuscript version of Martin le France’s long poem Le Champion des Dames (The Champion of Women), dated circa 1440.  You will notice that they are identified as “vaudoises” at the top, which could generally refer to witches, but more likely is a specific reference to the Waldensians (Waldenses, Vaudois), a heretical sect who existed on the fringes of medieval Christian society from their…

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