Dying for their Faith


WE see at this moment two armies on the march to attack the Christians inhabiting the Cottian and Dauphinese Alps. The sword now unsheathed is to be returned to its scabbard only when there breathes no longer in these mountains a single confessor of the faith condemned in the bull of Innocent VIII.


The plan of the campaign was to attack at the same time on two opposite points of the great mountain-chain; and advancing, the one army from the south-east, and the other from the north-west, to meet in the Valley of Angrogna, the center of the territory, and there strike the final blow. Let us attend first to the French division of this host, that which is advancing from the north against the Alps of Dauphine. This portion of the crusaders was led by a daring and cruel man, skilled in such adventures, the Lord of La Palu. He ascended the mountains with his fanatics, and entered the Vale of Loyse, a deep gorge overhung by towering mountains.


The inhabitants, seeing an armed force, twenty times their own number, enter their valley, despaired of being able to resist them, and prepared for flight. They placed their old people and children in rustic carts, together with their domestic utensils, and such store of victuals as the urgency of the occasion permitted them to collect, and driving their herds before them, they began to climb the rugged slopes of Mount Pelvoux, which rises some six thousand feet over the level of the valley.


They sang canticles as they climbed the steeps, which served at once to smooth their rugged path, and to dispel their terrors. Not a few were overtaken and slaughtered, and theirs was perhaps the happier lot. About halfway up there is an immense cavern, called Aigue-Froid, from the cold springs that gush out from its rocky walls. In front of the cavern is a platform of rock, where the spectator sees beneath him only fearful precipices, which must be clambered over before one can reach the entrance of the grotto.


The roof of the cave forms a magnificent arch, which gradually subsides and contracts into a narrow passage, or throat, and then widens once more, and forms a roomy hall of irregular form. Into this grotto, as into an impregnable castle, did the Vaudois enter. Their women, infants, and old men they placed in the inner hall; their cattle and sheep they distributed along the lateral cavities of the grotto. The able-bodied men posted themselves at the entrance. Having barricaded with huge stones both the doorway of the cave and the path that led to it, they deemed themselves secure.


They had provisions to last, Cataneo says in his Memoirs, "two years;" and it would cost them little effort to hurl headlong down the precipices, any one who should attempt to scale them in order to reach the entrance of the cavern. But a device of their pursuer rendered all these precautions and defences vain. La Palu ascended the mountain on the other side, and approaching the cave from above, let down his soldiers by ropes from the precipice that overhangs the entrance of the grotto. The platform in front was thus secured by his soldiers.


The Vaudois might have cut the ropes, and dispatched their foes as they were being lowered one by one, but the boldness of the maneuver would seem to have paralyzed them. They retreated into the cavern to find in it their grave. La Palu saw the danger of permitting his men to follow them into the depths of their hiding-place. He adopted the easier and safer method of piling up at its entrance all the wood he could collect and setting fire to it.


A huge volume of black smoke began to roll into the cave, leaving to the unhappy inmates the miserable alternative of rushing out and falling by the sword that waited for them, or of remaining in the interior to be stifled by the murky vapor. Some rushed out, and were massacred; but the greater part remained till death slowly approached them by suffocation. "When the cavern was afterwards examined," says Muston, "there were found in it 400 infants, suffocated in their cradles, or in the arms of their dead mothers. Altogether there perished in this cavern more than 3,000 Vaudois, including the entire population of Val Loyse. Cataneo distributed the property of these unfortunates among the vagabonds who accompanied him, and never again did the Vaudois Church raise its head in these bloodstained valleys."

Another bloody persecution of the Waldenses led John Milton to write his famous sonnet, "On the Late Massacre in Piedmont."

Avenge, O Lord, Thy slaughtered saints, whose bones

Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold,

Ev'n them who kept Thy truth so pure of old

When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones.

Forget not: in Thy book record their groans

Who were Thy sheep and in their ancient fold

Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that rolled

Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans

The vales redoubled to the hills, and they

To heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow

O'er all the Italian fields where still doth sway

The triple tyrant: that from these may grow

A hundredfold, who having learned Thy way,

Early may fly the Babylonian woe.

 What a scene will these mountains and hills present when Christ, the Lifegiver, shall call forth the dead! They will come from caverns, from dungeons, from deep wells, where their bodies have been buried.