Waldensian Church History
A little bit about me—I was born in what you call a 2×2 home, but I did not profess. I knew a little bit about the history growing up, as I would spend summers visiting my grannies in Oregon (one in Salem, the other in Eugene). Both my grannies had professed through Cooney, back in the days when Irvine was still part of the fellowship. My grams in Eugene was extremely close to me–out of all her 9 grandchildren, I was her favorite.
She confided in me quite a bit about what she knew about the history–she did not want to see me get entrapped in this way as she had been. She told me that “a lot of people call us Cooneyites” and also about how the head worker had bullied her, telling her to “burn” old letters, etc. that referenced the early leaders and to keep quiet about the history. Years afterward she still wept to me about it–she was quite a packrat and hated giving up her memories.
To the horror of my parents, I was the recipient of a full scholarship to a Catholic University–Santa Clara, and once I left home I never attended a meeting again, so it has been many years. At Santa Clara, I met my wife to be–she has a Waldensian background. There was an entire community of Waldensian students at college with us. I have found that many Waldensians prefer a Catholic education for their children as it is closest to their own beliefs. I sent my own children to Catholic prep schools and then Catholic colleges. Two of them went to my old Alma Mater, Santa Clara!
Nicole (or Nick) as I call her came from a very old Waldensian family, and I was intrigued by them (and her)! Her family is extremely cosmopolitan, and she was raised in France. One thing that few outsiders realize about the Waldensians is that the history of the church is intertwined with the history of winemaking. If you look at maps of Europe, you will find that the church thrived in the areas known for their exceptional viticulture and enology.
Nick’s family has been winemakers throughout many centuries and they now own many vineyards. They also have a castle that dates back to the early middle ages. Owning a family castle may sound grand–but it is not a place that many people would want to live. It is extremely old–mostly in rubble–few modern conveniences and unlivable except for one section. However, every summer the family spends some time there and I have to say that the one great benefit of the place is that it is full of family (and thus Waldensian) history.
My favorite part is the chapel–which is actually still quite beautiful due to a great-great-great-great-great grandmother of Nicole’s who funded a restoration in the 1700s. The chapel has served the local Waldensian community since the 1500s and it is adjacent to a family/Waldenisan community cemetery that dates even further back than the chapel — some of the graves date back to the 1300s! This cemetery has many graves that are marked moine, that is the French word for monk.
In the early days of the church, those who devoted their lives to church service were called monks. The gravestones are decorated with Waldensian symbols. In the chapel, we have artwork, including a magnificent stained glass that is over 500 years old which depicts not only Waldensian church history, but also the stories of several family members who were prominent in the church. We also have several statues, my favorite is of the Virgin Mary–when my wife and I were married part of the Waldensian ritual was to place flowers in front of this statue–asking the Virgin to bless our marriage. Our own children have followed this beautiful old Waldensian tradition at their own marriage ceremonies.
We also have a little museum. Most Waldensian churches–including my local one that I have provided a link to have a museum (and a winery–our local churches winery is a huge tourist attraction–visit us!) because we cherish and preserve our history. I admit that this was difficult in times when there were not many written materials, but we still have a wealth of historical riches. Confirmation gowns, pendants and pins, family portraits–containing symbols that are rich in hidden meaning!
And from the 1600s on we have written history. We have family bibles, diaries, and written accounts. I love flipping through those old family bibles (even though I cannot understand them–the very old bibles are the Vulgate–the bible that we use now is the “Catholic Living Bible“ because it reads like a novel–very easy!) and looking at the names of those who have gone before! Some of the important family stories have been passed on–first through the oral tradition for many years–then written out centuries later.
According to family history, three members of Nick’s family were persecuted by the Catholic church. Interestingly enough, family tradition holds that these people were persecuted because wealthy bishops wanted their vineyards, religious differences were used merely as a flimsy excuse to provide cover for a bold land grab. All three eventually went back to the Catholic church in order to retain their family lands.
What I love best about the church are the wonderful little traditions and French sayings that have become part of our life through the centuries. We just finished having a family reunion–as the Waldensians like to say, we bathed ourselves in family (nous avons pris un bain de famille). This is similar to how the Jewish people have Hebrew sayings, and the Catholics have Latin. French is the language of our church and we have many little everyday French sayings that have come down to us due to that association.
Above, someone said that the Waldensians have “conventions.” Well, the closest thing in my experience is that we have a Waldensian Festival every August, but this festival is a very new development, it only dates back to 1976. It is fantastic–we have lots of good wine, we show off our crafts, have food vendors, entertainers and games. It is very similar to a fair. I don’t see any similarities to convention, but you are welcome to come and see for yourself! It is certainly a lot of fun–and our family sells quite a bit of wine each year there….
I had heard of the 2×2 trying to make a connection between themselves and our church many years ago–my father pulled out a paper written by that Cornelius guy about a dozen years ago (on fete le Thanksgiving!). We all thought it was quite silly (even my 2×2/Cooneyite parents) and took little stock in it.[NOTE from Cherie: Cornelius Janean, author of The Apostles Doctrine & Fellowship]
More recently my wife saw Nathan’s ramblings on the web–and came to me saying–someone is interested in the Church! She was very excited–saying that she didn’t know people were interested in the church anymore–so she begged me to come here and tell about our church. Well–after checking it out–most here are NOT interested in our church. They are interested in proving that there is one “true” church and that the Waldensians were it for a brief time–but that now it is the 2×2/Cooneyites. Good luck with that!
Most Christians understand that the true church is the believers. There have always been believers throughout history. Doesn’t matter what their church affiliation was. In 1600, there were true believers in my group, there were also Catholics who were true believers. And there were people in both churches who were NOT true believers. There was not, never has been, and never will be a true church (where people are saved just by membership alone) and a false church (where people are doomed regardless of their relationship with God). It is a very, very dangerous idea to believe that you need to find this true church to be saved. I am not interested in this train of thought.
If anyone is interested in Waldensians–you are welcome to come to our forums–both at my church and others. I have little interest in the 2×2/Cooneyites. They have been in my rearview mirror for many years–and that is where I intend to keep them. I wrote out my history in response to Cherie–who has done such a great research job–she deserves to have this history if she wants it. If anyone wants to use it, they are welcome to it.
By Chris Cahill
October 16, 2008
Click Here to go to Waldensian church website.