The Waldensians exile itinerary is 382 km long (135 km in Italy, 242 km in France and 5 km in Switzerland). It follows the path of one of the 13 groups of about 3,000 Waldensians who were deported from Piedmont in 1687, kept into Piedmont jails and conducted with forced marches to Geneva.
The itinerary will start on the Italian side from the town of Saluzzo – one of the places where Waldensians where imprisoned. It will cross the plain of Piedmont following roads and cycle paths up to the city of Avigliana, then climbing on the Susa valley up to the Mont Cenis following the ancient royal road. Finally, it will go through the Maurienne, come to Annecy and end in Geneva.
At present the path is entirely made out of easily accessible roads, for both walkers and cyclers. It is still not signposted yet but a guide is expected to be published in the first part of 2014. Besides providing a historical background on the Italian and French side “Trail”, this guide will contain precise information on it and will be supplied with a map for easy travelling.
The Waldensians exile journey follows the road of the 1687 exile of a group of Waldensians military deported up to Geneva by Savoyard soldiers. The trail passes through the Piedmont plain and the Mont Cenis pass, then climbing down into the French side (ancient Savoyard lands) getting to Geneva. It is a journey through history – without forgetting the nature and all other scenic beauties of the region – which reminds, on one hand, the tragedy suffered at the end of the XVII century: persecution, deportation, denial of rights, but also solidarity, the welcome and the will of helping a population forced to abandon its own land.
When King Louis XIV of France renounced the Edict of Nantes in 1685 a climate of persecution pervaded France. The Huguenots fled and sought asylum in the Protestant Europe. Some of them also arrived in the Savoyard lands adjacent to the French boundary (valleys of Pellice, Germanasca and Chisone) were the Waldensians were located. In 1532 they had joined the Protestant Reformation. Under the pressure of Louis XIV, on 4th November 1685 Duke Vittorio Amedeo II of Savoy emitted in turn another edict, which forbade “his Waldensians” to give any sort of aid to their foreign religion fellows, under the penalty of ten years of jail. Nonetheless, the French king was not satisfied, and this led Vittorio Amedeo to issue the edict of 31st January 1686. This was constructed according to the French renounce of the Edit of Nantes, thus concerning a series of drastic measures. If thoroughly adopted, these measures would have soon rubbed the Waldensians out of Piedmont. The Edict of January was followed by increasingly harsher other ones, and culminated in the one of 25th September 1686. This last Edict solemnly declared the restoration of the Catholic worship, the creation of new catholic parishes and the building of new churches. Meanwhile, the Duke resorted also to military violence. Around 8 thousand Waldensians living in the Savoy Valleys (meaning the entire population except those who died trying to defend themselves and few runaways) were arrested and imprisoned. They were kept in 13 Savoyard jails which “hosted” them for roughly one year. Saluzzo, Fossano, Mondovì, Trino Vercellese and Torino are just some of the locations sadly anchored to the memory of intolerance and persecution of that time.
The cost of prisoners, however, started to become heavy. In vain did the Duke try to sell them as convicted felons to Venice; then, after a long negotiation led by the Swiss cantons delegates, he ordered to send them to exile escorted by guard troupes. Only the pastors imprisoned as hostages, boys under 12 and girls under 10 could stay in Piedmont, in order to be raised in the Catholic faith. The Waldensians forced to exile to Geneva followed the same ways as the Huguenots, but in 1689 they were also the protagonists of an adventurous journey back, when they returned to their homeland braving French and Savoyard troupes. This epic march, named the Glorious Return, constitutes one of the most important and meaningful chapters of the history of the Italian and European Waldensian Community.