Pope Clement the Eighth, sent missionaries into the valleys of Piedmont, to induce the Protestants to renounce their religion; and these missionaries having erected monasteries in several parts of the valleys, became exceedingly troublesome to those of the reformed, where the monasteries appeared, not only as fortresses to curb, but as sanctuaries for all such to fly to, as had any ways injured them.
The Protestants petitioned the duke of Savoy against these missionaries, whose insolence and ill-usage were become intolerable; but instead of getting any redress, the interest of the missionaries so far prevailed, that the duke published a decree, in which he declared, that one witness should be sufficient in a court of law against a Protestant, and that any witness, who convicted a Protestant of any crime whatever, should be entitled to one hundred crowns.
It may be easily imagined, upon the publication of a decree of this nature, that many Protestants fell martyrs to perjury and avarice; for several villainous papists would swear any thing against the Protestants for the sake of the reward, and then fly to their own priests for absolution from their false oaths. If any Roman Catholic, of more conscience than the rest, blamed these fellows for their atrocious crimes, they themselves were in danger of being informed against and punished as favorers of heretics.
The missionaries did all they could to get the books of the Protestants into their hands, in order to burn them; when the Protestants doing their utmost endeavors to conceal their books, the missionaries wrote to the duke of Savoy, who, for the heinous crime of not surrendering their Bibles, prayer books, and religious treatises, sent a number of troops to be quartered on them. These military gentry did great mischief in the houses of the Protestants, and destroyed such quantities of provisions, that many families were thereby ruined.
To encourage, as much as possible, the apostasy of the Protestants, the duke of Savoy published a proclamation wherein he said, "To encourage the heretics to turn Catholics, it is our will and pleasure, and we do hereby expressly command, that all such as shall embrace the holy Roman Catholic faith, shall enjoy an exemption, from all and every tax for the space of five years, commencing from the day of their conversion." The duke of Savoy, likewise established a court, called the council for extirpating the heretics. This court was to enter into inquiries concerning the ancient privileges of the Protestant churches, and the decrees which had been, from time to time, made in favor of the Protestants. But the investigation of these things was carried on with the most manifest partiality; old charters were wrested to a wrong sense, and sophistry was used to pervert the meaning of everything, which tended to favor the reformed.
As if these severities were not sufficient, the duke, soon after, published another edict, in which he strictly commanded, that no Protestant should act as a schoolmaster, or tutor, either in public or private, or dare to teach any art, science, or language, directly or indirectly, to persons of any persuasion whatever.
This edict was immediately followed by another, which decreed that no Protestant should hold any place of profit, trust, or honor; and to wind up the whole, the certain token of an approaching persecution came forth in a final edict, by which it was positively ordered, that all Protestants should diligently attend Mass.
The publication of an edict, containing such an injunction, may be compared to unfurling the bloody flag; for murder and rapine were sure to follow. One of the first objects that attracted the notice of the papists was Mr. Sebastian Basan, a zealous Protestant, who was seized by the missionaries, confined, tormented for fifteen months, and then burnt.
Previous to the persecution, the missionaries employed kidnappers to steal away the Protestants' children, that they might privately be brought up Roman Catholics; but now they took away the children by open force, and if they met with any resistance, they murdered the parents.
To give greater vigor to the persecution, the duke of Savoy called a general assembly of the Roman Catholic nobility and gentry when a solemn edict was published against the reformed, containing many heads, and including several reasons for extirpating the Protestants, among which were the following:1. For the preservation of the papal authority.
2. That the church livings may be all under one mode of government.
3. To make a union among all parties.
4. In honor of all the saints, and of the ceremonies of the Church of Rome.
This severe edict was followed by a most cruel order, published on January 25, A.D. 1655, under the duke's sanction, by Andrew Gastaldo, doctor of civil laws. This order set forth, "That every head of a family, with the individuals of that family, of the reformed religion, of what rank, degree, or condition soever, none excepted inhabiting and possessing estates in Lucerne, St. Giovanni, Bibiana, Campiglione, St. Secondo, Lucernetta, La Torre, Fenile, and Bricherassio, should, within three days after the publication thereof, withdraw and depart, and be withdrawn out of the said places, and translated into the places and limits tolerated by his highness during his pleasure; particularly Bobbio, Angrogne, Vilario, Rorata, and the county of Bonetti.
"And all this to be done on pain of death, and confiscation of house and goods, unless within the limited time they turned Roman Catholics."
A flight with such speed, in the midst of winter, may be conceived as no agreeable task, especially in a country almost surrounded by mountains. The sudden order affected all, and things, which would have been scarcely noticed at another time, now appeared in the most conspicuous light. Women with child, or women just lain-in, were not objects of pity on this order for sudden removal, for all were included in the command; and it unfortunately happened, that the winter was remarkably severe and rigorous.
The papists, however, drove the people from their habitations at the time appointed, without even suffering them to have sufficient clothes to cover them; and many perished in the mountains through the severity of the weather, or for want of food. Some, however, who remained behind after the decree was published, met with the severest treatment, being murdered by the popish inhabitants, or shot by the troops who were quartered in the valleys. A particular description of these cruelties is given in a letter, written by a Protestant, who was upon the spot, and who happily escaped the carnage. "The army (says he) having got footing, became very numerous, by the addition of a multitude of the neighboring popish inhabitants, who finding we were the destined prey of the plunderers, fell upon us with an impetuous fury. Exclusive of the duke of Savoy's troops, and the popish inhabitants, there were several regiments of French auxiliaries, some companies belonging to the Irish brigades, and several bands formed of outlaws, smugglers, and prisoners, who had been promised pardon and liberty in this world, and absolution in the next, for assisting to exterminate the Protestants from Piedmont.
"This armed multitude being encouraged by the Roman Catholic bishops and monks fell upon the Protestants in a most furious manner. Nothing now was to be seen but the face of horror and despair, blood stained the floors of the houses, dead bodies bestrewed the streets, groans and cries were heard from all parts. Some armed themselves, and skirmished with the troops; and many, with their families, fled to the mountains. In one village they cruelly tormented one hundred and fifty women and children after the men were fled, beheading the women, and dashing out the brains of the children. In the towns of Vilario and Bobbio, most of those who refused to go to Mass, who were upwards of fifteen years of age, they crucified with their heads downwards; and the greatest number of those who were under that age were strangled."
Sarah Ratignole des Vignes, a woman of sixty years of age, being seized by some soldiers, they ordered her to say a prayer to some saints, which she refusing, they thrust a sickle into her belly, ripped her up, and then cut off her head.
Martha Constantine, a handsome young woman, was treated with great indecency and cruelty by several of the troops, who first ravished, and then killed her by cutting off her breasts. These they fried, and set before some of their comrades, who ate them without knowing what they were. When they had done eating, the others told them what they had made a meal of, in consequence of which a quarrel ensued, swords were drawn, and a battle took place. Several were killed in the fray, the greater part of whom were those concerned in the horrid massacre of the woman, and who had practiced such an inhuman deception on their companions.
Some of the soldiers seized a man of Thrassiniere, and ran the points of their swords through his ears, and through his feet. They then tore off the nails of his fingers and toes with red-hot pincers, tied him to the tail of an ass, and dragged him about the streets; they finally fastened a cord around his head, which they twisted with a stick in so violent a manner as to wring it from his body.
Peter Symonds, a Protestant, of about eighty years of age, was tied neck and heels, and then thrown down a precipice. In the fall the branch of a tree caught hold of the ropes that fastened him, and suspended him in the midway, so that he languished for several days, and at length miserably perished of hunger.
Esay Garcino, refusing to renounce his religion, was cut into small pieces; the soldiers, in ridicule, saying, they had minced him. A woman, named Armand, had every limb separated from each other, and then the respective parts were hung upon a hedge. Two old women were ripped open, and then left in the fields upon the snow, where they perished; and a very old woman, who was deformed, had her nose and hands cut off, and was left, to bleed to death in that manner.
A great number of men, women, and children, were flung from the rocks, and dashed to pieces. Magdalen Bertino, a Protestant woman of La Torre, was stripped stark naked, her head tied between her legs, and thrown down one of the precipices; and Mary Raymondet, of the same town, had the flesh sliced from her bones until she expired.
Magdalen Pilot, of Vilario, was cut to pieces in the cave of Castolus; Ann Charboniere had one end of a stake thrust up her body; and the other being fixed in the ground, she was left in that manner to perish, and Jacob Perrin the elder, of the church of Vilario, and David, his brother, were flayed alive.
An inhabitant of La Torre, named Giovanni Andrea Michialm, was apprehended, with four of his children, three of them were hacked to pieces before him, the soldiers asking him, at the death of every child, if he would renounce his religion; this he constantly refused. One of the soldiers then took up the last and youngest by the legs, and putting the same question to the father, he replied as before, when the inhuman brute dashed out the child's brains. The father, however, at the same moment started from them, and fled; the soldiers fired after him, but missed him; and he, by the swiftness of his heels, escaped, and hid himself in the Alps.