The Waldensian movement first appeared in the second half of the 12th century in Lyon, France. Its founder was a wealthy Lyon merchant, Peter Waldo (also called Pierre Valdes, Waldes, Vaudès or de Vaux), who gave up his worldly goods and returned to his former poor, apostolic life. The main characteristics of the movement were voluntary poverty, strict interpretation of the Scriptures and, above all, criticism of the materialism of the Church. They regarded relics of saints as mere human remains of uncertain origin, icons and sacred statues as objects of idolatry, and held that mass said in a barn was as valid as any in a consecrated church. Waldo even translated the Holy Scripture into Arpitan (a French dialect of Provence) and preached using this translation. The movement soon after its founding gained a following in Provence, as well as in neighbouring Lombardy. The sect was sometimes known as the Lyon Poor or Lombardy Poor.

The emergence of the sect did not escape the watchful eye of the Vatican and in 1179, Peter Waldo and his associates were invited to Rome to explain their opinions and actions before the Holy See and respond to theological questions. The outcome of this questioning is not clear, but the movement continued its activities and preached in ever greater opposition to the Roman Church until in 1184, the entire sect was excommunicated by the Synod of Verona and its members expelled from Lyon. Nevertheless, the Waldensians continue to endure thanks to its strict secrecy. Their communities were linked together by travelling preachers who visited the members’ houses. The members of the sect were obliged to hide the preachers from pursuit, feed and house them and ensure them safe passage to their next destination. Thus decentralised, the Waldensians persevered long after the death of their founder sometime in the early 13th century, probably in what is today Germany.

The Waldensians came to Bohemia primarily with German colonists, who undoubtedly were often fleeing persecution. But even in Bohemia they did not escape systematic persecution and by the end of the 15th century the movement was suppressed throughout Europe, with the exception of the Cottian Alpine region (between Piedmont and Provence), where they still maintained a compact community. At the end of the 1590s, the Waldensians joined the Genevan Reformation and became part of the Europe-wide Protestant movement.

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