In the fourteenth century, many of the Waldenses of Pragela and Dauphiny, emigrated to Calabria, and settling some waste lands, by the permission of the nobles of that country, they soon, by the most industrious cultivation, made several wild and barren spots appear with all the beauties of verdure and fertility.
The Calabrian lords were highly pleased with their new subjects and tenants, as they were honest, quiet, and industrious; but the priests of the country exhibited several negative complaints against them; for not being able to accuse them of anythying bad which they did do, they founded accusations on what they did not do, and charged them,
With not being Roman Catholics.
With not making any of their boys priests.
With not making any of their girls nuns.
With not going to Mass.
With not giving wax tapers to their priests as offerings.
With not going on pilgrimages.
With not bowing to images.
The Calabrian lords, however, quieted the priests, by telling them that these people were extremely harmless; that they gave no offence to the Roman Catholics, and cheerfully paid the tithes to the priests, whose revenues were considerably increased by their coming into the country, and who, of consequence, ought to be the last persons to complain of them.
Things went on tolerably well after this for a few years, during which the Waldenses formed themselves into two corporate towns, annexing several villages to the jurisdiction of them. At length they sent to Geneva for two clergymen; one to preach in each town, as they determined to make a public profession of their faith. Intelligence of this affair being carried to the pope, Pius the Fourth, he determined to exterminate them from Calabria.
To this end he sent Cardinal Alexandrino, a man of very violent temper and a furious bigot, together with two monks, to Calabria, where they were to act as inquisitors. These authorized persons came to St. Xist, one of the towns built by the Waldenses, and having assembled the people, told them that they should receive no injury, if they would accept of preachers appointed by the pope; but if they would not, they should be deprived both of their properties and lives; and that their intentions might be known, Mass should be publicly said that afternoon, at which they were ordered to attend.
The people of St. Xist, instead of attending Mass, fled into the woods, with their families, and thus disappointed the cardinal and his coadjutors. The cardinal then proceeded to La Garde, the other town belonging to the Waldenses, where, not to be served as he had been at St. Xist, he ordered the gates to be locked, and all avenues guarded. The same proposals were then made to the inhabitants of La Garde, as had previously been offered to those of St. Xist, but with this additional piece of artifice: the cardinal assured them that the inhabitants of St. Xist had immediately come into his proposals, and agreed that the pope should appoint them preachers. This falsehood succeeded; for the people of La Garde, thinking what the cardinal had told them to be the truth, said they would exactly follow the example of their brethren at St. Xist.
The cardinal, having gained his point by deluding the people of one town, sent for troops of soldiers, with a view to murder those of the other. He, accordingly, despatched the soldiers into the woods, to hunt down the inhabitants of St. Xist like wild beasts, and gave them strict orders to spare neither age nor sex, but to kill all they came near. The troops entered the woods, and many fell a prey to their ferocity, before the Waldenses were properly apprised of their design. At length, however, they determined to sell their lives as dear as possible, when several conflicts happened, in which the half-armed Waldenses performed prodigies of valor, and many were slain on both sides. The greatest part of the troops being killed in the different rencontres, the rest were compelled to retreat, which so enraged the cardinal that he wrote to the viceroy of Naples for reinforcements.
The viceroy immediately ordered a proclamation to be made thorughout all the Neapolitan territories, that all outlaws, deserters, and other proscribed persons should be surely pardoned for their respective offences, on condition of making a campaign against the inhabitants of St. Xist, and continuing under arms until those people were exterminated.
Many persons of desperate fortunes came in upon this proclamation, and being formed into light companies, were sent to scour the woods, and put to death all they could meet with of the reformed religion. The viceroy himself likewise joined the cardinal, at the head of a body of regular forces; and, in conjunction, they did all they could to harass the poor people in the woods. Some they caught and hanged up upon trees, cut down boughs and burnt them, or ripped them open and left their bodies to be devoured by wild beasts, or birds of prey. Many they shot at a distance, but the greatest number they hunted down by way of sport. A few hid themselves in caves, but famine destroyed them in their retreat; and thus all these poor people perished, by various means, to glut the bigoted malice of their merciless persecutors.
The inhabitants of St. Xist were no sooner exterminated, than those of La Garde engaged the attention of the cardinal and viceroy.
It was offered, that if they should embrace the Roman Catholic persuasion, themselves and families should not be injured, but their houses and properties should be restored, and none would be permitted to molest them; but, on the contrary, if they refused this mercy, (as it was termed) the utmost extremities would be used, and the most cruel deaths the certain consequence of their noncompliance.
Notwithstanding the promises on one side, and menaces on the other, these worthy people unanimously refused to renounce their religion, or embrace the errors of popery. This exasperated the cardinal and viceroy so much, that thirty of them were ordered to be put immediately to the rack, as a terror to the rest.
Those who were put to the rack were treated with such severity that several died under the tortures; one Charlin, in particular, was so cruelly used that his belly burst, his bowels came out, and he expired in the greatest agonies. These barbarities, however, did not answer the purposes for which they were intended; for those who remained alive after the rack, and those who had not felt the rack, remained equally constant in their faith, and boldly declared that no tortures of body, or terrors of mind, should ever induce them to renounce their God, or worship images.
Several were then, by the cardinal's order, stripped stark naked, and whipped to death iron rods; and some were hacked to pieces with large knives; others were thrown down from the top of a large tower, and many were covered over with pitch, and burnt alive.
One of the monks who attended the cardinal, being naturally of a savage and cruel disposition, requested of him that he might shed some of the blood of these poor people with his own hands; when his request being granted, the barbarous man took a large sharp knife, and cut the throats of fourscore men, women, and children, with as little remorse as a butcher would have killed so many sheep. Every one of these bodies were then ordered to be quartered, the quarters placed upon stakes, and then fixed in different parts of the country, within a circuit of thirty miles.
The four principal men of La Garde were hanged, and the clergyman was thrown from the top of his church steeple. He was terribly mangled, but not quite killed by the fall; at which time the viceroy passing by, said, "Is the dog yet living? Take him up, and give him to the hogs," when, brutal as this sentence may appear, it was executed accordingly.
Sixty women were racked so violently, that the cords pierced their arms and legs close to the bone; when, being remanded to prison, their wounds mortified, and they died in the most miserable manner. Many others were put to death by various cruel means; and if any Roman Catholic, more compassionate than the rest, interceded for any of the reformed, he was immediately apprehended, and shared the same fate as a favorer of heretics.
The viceroy being obliged to march back to Naples, on some affairs of moment which required his presence, and the cardinal being recalled to Rome, the marquis of Butane was ordered to put the finishing stroke to what they had begun; which he at length effected, by acting with such barbarous rigor, that there was not a single person of the reformed religion left living in all Calabria.
Thus were a great number of inoffensive and harmless people deprived of their possessions, robbed of their property, driven from their homes, and at length murdered by various means, only because they would not sacrifice their consciences to the superstitions of others, embrace idolatrous doctrines which they abhorred, and accept of teachers whom they could not believe.
Tyranny is of three kinds, viz., that which enslaves the person, that which seizes the property, and that which prescribes and dictates to the mind. The two first sorts may be termed civil tyranny, and have been practiced by arbitrary sovereigns in all ages, who have delighted in tormenting the persons, and stealing the properties of their unhappy subjects. But the third sort, viz., prescribing and dictating to the mind, may be called ecclesiastical tyranny: and this is the worst kind of tyranny, as it includes the other two sorts; for the Romish clergy not only do torture the body and seize the effects of those they persecute, but take the lives, torment the minds, and, if possible, would tyrannize over the souls of the unhappy victims.