An Account Of The Persecutions In The Valleys Of Piedmont In The Seventeenth Century
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 villanous 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 favourers 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 endeavours 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 apostacy 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 favour 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 every thing,
which tended to favour 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 honour; 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
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, murdered the parents.
To give greater vigour 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 honour of all the saints, and of the ceremonies of the church of
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 soevor, 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, Angrogna, Villaro, 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
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 neighbouring
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 150 women and children after the
men were fled, beheading the women, and dashing out the brains of the
children. In the towns of Villaro 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 Rastignole des Vignes, a woman of 60 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 practised 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; and, finally fastened
a cord round 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 till she expired.
Magdalen Pilot, of Villaro, 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 Villaro, 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 which 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.
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