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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15
From the book, The Waldenses, 1853
There is no town in Piedmont, under a Waldensian pastor, where some of the brethren have not been put to death. Jordan Terbano was burned alive at Suza; Hippolyte Rossiero at Turin; Michael Goneto, an octogenarian, at Sarcena; Villermin Ambrosio hanged on the Col di Meano; Hugo Chiamps, of Fenestrelle, had his entrails torn from his living body, at Turin; Peter Geymarali, of Bobbio, in like manner, had his entrails taken out at Luserne, and a fierce cat thrust in their place to torture him further; Maria Romano was buried alive at Roccapatia; Magdalen Foulano underwent the same fate at San Giovanni; Susan Michelini was bound hand and foot, and left to perish of cold and hunger on the snow at Sarcena.
Bartholomew Fache, gashed with sabres, had the wounds filled up with quick-lime, and perished thus in agony at Fenile; Daniel Michelini had his tongue torn out at Bobbio, for having praised God; James Baridari perished, covered with sulphureous matches, which had been forced into his flesh under the nails, between the fingers, in the nostrils, in the lips, and over all his body, and then lighted. Daniel Revelli had his mouth filled with gun powder, which, being lighted, blew his head to pieces.
Maria Monnen, taken at Liousa, had the flesh cut from her cheek and chin bones, so that her jaw was left bare, and she was thus left to perish. Paul Gamier was slowly sliced to pieces at Rora; Thomas Margueti was mutilated in an indescribable manner at Nliraboco, and Susan Jaquin cut in bits at La Torre.
Sara Rostagnol was slit open from the legs to the bosom, and left so to perish on the road between Eyral and Luzema ; Anne Charbonnier was impaled, and carried thus on a pike, as a standard, from San Giovanni to La Torre. Daniel Rambaud, at Paesano, had his nails torn off, then his fingers chopped off, then his feet and his hands, and then his arms and his legs, with each successive refusal on his part to abjure the gospel.
In March, 1536, Martin Gonin, pastor of Angrogna, was seized on his return from Geneva, at Grenoble, and, after a mock trial, taken from his prison at night, and drowned in the Isere. In June, 1556, Barthelemi Hector, of Poitiers, was burned at Turin, for having sold copies of the Bible to the shepherds of the Alps.
In 1555, a pastor of Geneva, Jean Vernoux, one of the earliest fellow-labourers with Calvin, Antoine Laborie Quercy, who had quitted the magistracy in order to devote himself more actively to the cause of the gospel, and three friends of theirs, Batailles, Tauran, and Tringalet, were on their way to the Waldensian valleys, seized by the marechaussee, in the gorges of the Col Tamis, and, after a lengthened interrogatory before the court of Chambery, were all burned in one fire.
Among the leaders who bad signalized themselves by excessive ferocity in the crusade against the Vaudois, under Innocent VIII, was Captain Varagle, or Varaille. A son of this man, endowed with remarkable capacity, entered into holy orders in 1522, and took up his abode not far from the Waldensian valleys, in the little town of Busque, one of the most retired in Piedmont. Here his rapid progress in literature and theology, and his eloquence in the pulpit, attracted the attention of his superiors.
The influence of the Reformation was now making itself everywhere felt; and the Romish church comprehended the essential importance of strengthening its power, which the synod of Angrogna had just aided to weaken. Young Geoffrey Varaille, selected to operate as a counterpoise to the impulse of reformation, received the difficult mission to visit the principal towns of Italy, and raise up the credit of the Romish church by his eloquent preaching. He was to be accompanied by an Observantine monk of the convent of Monte Fiascone, named Matteo Baschi, the founder of the Capuchin order, and by ten members of the secular clergy.
These twelve being assembled together proceeded with a view to the accomplishment of their mission, to examine for themselves the arguments of the reformers against Catholicism. It was not long ere their enlightened minds recognized the force of these arguments so fully, that, becoming themselves objects of suspicion to the popish authorities, they were all imprisoned at Rome, where they remained captives for five years.
At the expiration of this period, Varaille, released from his dungeon, entered the service of the papal legate at the court of France, and abode with him at Paris for a considerable time. Here the rays of the Reformation fell upon his soul with still greater power than in Piedmont; and the massacre of the Waldenses of Merindol and Cabrieres, which became the subject of inquiry before the court of peers, so filled up the measure of his indignation and disgust against a church breed in the blood of the just, that he resigned the high position he occupied at Paris, and repaired to Geneva, investigate, at the fountain-head, the new doctrines, as they were called, but which he, to his delighted surprise, soon learned to recognize, on the contrary, as the ancient, the primitive doctrines.
Varaille was now nearly fifty years old, but faith makes a man young again; and full of an ardour he had never known before, he unhesitatingly cast off his past life, to commence a new one, with more of moral force than he had ever yet possessed and was received among the ranks of those evangelical pastors whom, theretofore, he had approached as an adversary.
The Waldensian churches required at this epoch a pastor who could preach in Italian. Geoffrey Varaille was selected for the duty, and was installed in the parish of San Giovanni, amid those very valleys against which his father had led a crusade. In 1557, on his return from a visit to his birthplace, Busque, he was denounced at the foot of Monte Viso, by the prior of Starffade, and apprehended by the nephew of the archdeacon of Saluzzo.
He was treated with respect; handsome apartments were assigned him as a prison, and he was even permitted to go at large on parole. How many ordinary prisoners would have profited by this liberty to escape! But the Christian is not one, with whom it is lawful to break faith with an enemy. Nay, having learned that the reformers of Bubiana, a portion of his flock, were about to rescue him by main force, he desired them to abstain, and to leave him in the hands of God.
After various interrogatories he was conducted in chains to Turin. His replies to his judges, and the written propositions which he laid before them in support of his faith, are a monument of his talents, learning, and piety. During his detention, one preacher wrote thus to him from Geneva:
"Very dear and beloved brother,
Though the news of your imprisonment has deeply grieved us, yet the Lord, who can, shed light from darkness, has furnished us with joyful consolation, in the fruits already produced by your trials. Let the glory which sustained St. Paul also inspire you with courage; for though you are captive, the word of God is not captive, and you can render testimony of it to many who will spread abroad the seed of life they have received from your lips. Jesus Christ requires this testimony from all; but especially from such as you, under the seal of the ministry you received to preach the doctrine of salvation, which is now assailed in your person. Hesitate not, then, to confirm with your blood, if need be, the words which you have taught with your lips. Our Lord has told us that the death of the righteous is precious to him: let this reward suffice for you. I will not dwell on this point, persuaded that you repose firmly on him in whom, whether we live or die abides our eternal happiness.
My companions and brethren salute you.
Geneva, 17th Sept. 1557."
When the sentence of death was announced to the heroic pastor, he replied calmly to his judges, "Be assured, you will sooner want wood wherewith to burn us, than we ministers ready to burn in seal of their faith: from day to day they multiply; and the Word of God endureth forever."
Geoffrey Varaille, having been previously strangled by the humanity of the executioner, was burned at Turin, on 29th March, 1558.