It is the 23rd of March 2021. Welcome to the Christian History Almanac brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. I'm Dan van Voorhis.
The year was 1198.
I was thinking about the Cleveland Browns professional football team. For their longtime fans, I wonder how they reconcile the existence of the Baltimore Ravens while also rooting for a zombie version of their team. Because the Cleveland Browns, a team since 1946, moved to Baltimore in 1995 to become the Ravens. And then the new Cleveland Browns became a team in 1999, and they have to play the Ravens (the old Browns) twice a year. It makes me think of other zombie brands like Indian Motorcycles or Pan-Am, original brands that don't actually exist but still kind of exist. And, of course, this all makes me think about the Waldensians.
On this day, the 23rd of March in 1198 that King Pedro II of Aragon formally expelled the Waldensians from his Spanish kingdom. His royal decree officially condemned the Sabatati. The term "sabatati," which we now know meant "Waldensians," has had a curious history. It has been suggested that this term referred to their practice of sabbath, or perhaps that they met on the "witches Sabbath."
*Please remember that the information we have of medieval sects comes primarily from inquisition reports, thus giving us biased glimpses into the persecuted groups*
No, "Sabatati" referred to the particular footwear that outed them as Waldensians. Let me explain.
Waldensians were followers of Peter Waldo, a 12th-century reformer who is said to have inspired St. Francis. Both men believed that they were called to extreme poverty, and their followers often displayed this by going barefoot (we've heard about them before as the "discalced" on "un-shoed").
The crown in Aragon (northern Spain near the French border) had enough of these bothersome preachers who were egalitarian, non-violent, and opposed to monarchy. The crown first banned barefoot preaching. This put a cramp on the Waldensian style and their method for identifying each other. And so they began to wear shoes that had no tops, almost like sandals but made by taking the top off the regular shoes. There was a word for this: "sabatati." King Pedro of Aragon banned Waldensians by banning their footwear. And it kind of worked.
Waldensians in the Alpine regions of France, Italy, and Spain were persecuted and eventually coalesced in the Alpine valleys. Some remained in the Catholic fold and were called "Poor Catholics." Others dispersed into new reform-minded movements. And thus, entirely disconnected from Peter Waldo, the group existed as an idea and a label that meant "against the hierarchy."
*If you want to dig into the first Waldensians are and their beliefs, you can check out the creed-length "Noble Lesson"*
Waldensians, and "sabatati" for a time in Spain, meant "not like those Catholics" and was applied to a broad range of reforming groups. In 1532, many of those holding Waldo's name held the so-called "Waldensian Synod" at Chanoforan. This linked these reformers to the Reform of Bullinger and the Swiss. Since that synod, there has been no shortage of groups that claim the Waldensians as their spiritual heirs. The peculiar doctrine of Baptist perpetuity claims the Waldensians were early Baptists (they weren't). The Seventh Day Adventists laid claim to the group, although the idea that "sabatati" refers to sabbaths has been debunked. Presbyterians have connected themselves to the group, as have the particular blend of Italian Presbyterian Methodists that call themselves the Waldensian Evangelical Church. Like the Cleveland Browns, Waldensian became a kind of zombie brand which could be used as desired.
There is, of course, more to say, and we will leave that to future shows, but suffice it to say that today we remember the Waldensians, or at least those Waldensians in the Middle Ages who were banished as "Sabatatis" by King Pedro II on this, the 23rd of March in 1198.
The reading for today is a sonnet from John Milton. A group associating themselves with the Waldensians was massacred for their non-conformist beliefs in 1655, and Milton wrote this in their honor. This is his "On the Late Massacre in Piedmont"
Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold,
Even 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 th' Italian fields where still doth sway
The triple tyrant; that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.
This has been the Christian History Almanac for the 23rd of March 2021 brought to you by 1517 at 1517.org. The show is produced by a man who is more Baker Mayfield than Johnny Manziel. He is Christopher Gillespie. The show is written and read by Dan van Voorhis who reminds you that the first Cleveland Football team was called the Rams, and they moved to LA in 1945. You can catch us here every day. And remember that the rumors of grace, forgiveness, and the redemption of all things are true. Everything is going to be ok.