'Waldensianism was the most geographically widespread and the longest lived of all medieval popular heresies; most likely it was also the largest in terms of aggregate numbers of believers'. (The Dictionary of the Middle Ages, 508)

The Waldensian movement began in western Europe during the late 12th century when Peter Valdez (also spelled Waldes), a merchant and wandering preacher, had an epiphany and resolved to dedicate himself to the aposlte life-style; that of poverty and preaching. Valdez soon gained followers, who had no permanent dwellings and originally called themselves, plainly 'the poor.' Originally, the Church viewed them with distrust, because their devote life-style, evidenced by their conscious acceptance of poverty, tended to cast the clergy in a less than noble light. However, the church was able to accept them as such, if not for their dedication to preaching, which at the time was a practice reserved strictly for ordained church clergy. At this time, the Bible was literally unknown to lay people, as it existed only in Latin, making it inaccessable to the majority of the populous. Thus, Valdez's most lasting contribution to the religious controversy during this period, was his successful efforts to create a translated version of the Bible into common language. This allowed for the Bible to be read and interpreted to a degree never before seen; and so too, served as the foundation for Waldensian belief, that of preaching.

In 1179, Valdez and some of his followers met with Pope Alexander III before the Third Lateran Council in Rome, to face charges against them. The council scrutinized the Waldensian Biblical translations and subjected the representatives to theological questioning, in hopes of exposing them plainly as unworthy and unfit to preach. However, seeing the inherent good that the Waldensians might have for Christianity, Peope Alexander III ceded that they be allowed to preach, only if permission was recieved by local churches. This failed to stop Valdez or the Waldensians from continuing to practice and preach their views and interpretations of the translated Bible. In 1182, Valdez refused to cease his preaching when ordered to do so by the archbishop of Lyons. Two years later, Pope Lucias III formally denounced the Waldensians as heretics, however, only on the grounds of their preaching and not for their doctrinal beliefs, which were undoubtedly orthadox at that point. Soon after being deemed heretics, the Waldensians became heretical in their beliefs, primarily over the church's association with wealth, divinity, and power; they rejected the authority of priests, as divine communicators with God, while chosing to base their own on individual merit. As a result, many women, including reformed prostitutes, were welcomed into the Waldensian priesthood.

Pope Gregory IX enacted a large scale fight against heretics in the 1230's, which was primarily aimed at Cathars, but also effectivly rooted out Waldensians in most Meditteranean urban areas by the 14th century. However, pockets of Waldensians remained in isolated rural areas until the end of the Middle Ages. Interestingly, St. Francis later adopted many of the values of the Waldensians, but he and his followers were allowed to preach and to remain within the Church.


Reinarius Saccho, 'Of Sects of the Modern Heretics' 1254--a comprehensive list of heretical beliefs, and why they were antithetical to that of the church. From the Medieval Sourcebook.

The Conversion of Peter Waldo--taken from an chronicler's account, the story of Waldo (Valdez), a 'wicked userer' conversion to the Waldensians. From the Medieval Sourcebook.


The 14th and 15th Centuries: The Church in Moral Crisis--examination of the Church in this era, and its reactions to heretical sects. From the Secular Web.


The Secular Web--extensive site containing essays on heresy and the church throughout the medieval period

The Waldensian Movement Form Waldo to the Reformation, by Dennis McCallum--comprehensive research paper which chronicles the movement

The Library of God by Thomas W. Eland, 'Medieval Libraries in Their Cultural Context: A Critical Bibliographic Essay on the Literature of Written English'--Eland examines the impact of such a study on the nature of heresy and the construction of authority in medieval Europe

Back to Heresy page