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The Waldensians were followers of Peter Waldo (or Valdes or Vaudes); they called themselves the Poor men of Lyon, the Poor of Lombardy, or the Poor. A Christian sect believing in poverty and austerity, they were founded around 1170 promoting true poverty, public preaching[?] and the literal interpretation of the scriptures. Declared heretical, the movement was brutally suppressed by the Roman Catholic church. The group was one of many suppressed by the Church during the 12th and 13th centuries.

Waldo began to preach on the streets in the 1160s. By 1170 he and his followers were |excommunicated and forced from Lyon. The Catholic church declared them heretics - the groups principle error was "contempt for ecclesiastical[?] power" - that they dared to teach and preach outside of the control of the clergy "without divine inspiration", but they were also accused of the ignorant teaching of "innumerable errors" and condemned for translating parts of the Bible into vernacular. The movement even sought Papal approval for their endeavours at the Third Council of the Lateran where they were humiliated over certain fine theological points but gained a modicum of favour from the Pope.

The members of the group were declared schismatics in 1184 in France and heretics more widely in 1215 by the Fourth Council of the Lateran's anathema. The rejection by the Church radicalized the movement, in terms of ideology the Waldensians became more obviously anti-Catholic - rejecting the authority of the clergy, declaring any oath[?] to be a sin, claiming anyone could preach and that the Bible alone was all that was need for salvation, they also rejected the concept of purgatory and the idea of relics and icons[?]. They also absorbed a number of other groups including the Humiliati and had their own internal split and reformation with the Lombards. The movement also became associated with the Cathars in Laguedoc and so became part of the target for the Albigensian Crusade from 1208. The movement's founder probably died around this time, possibly in Germany.

Unlike the Cathars, the Waldensians survived elsewhere in Europe, remaining strong in France and also having a presence in northern Italy, southern Germany and down into central Europe. Particular efforts against the movement began in the 1230s with the Inquisition seeking the leaders of the movement, and the Church creating a new order of Poor Catholics that had some success in drawing back heretics. The movement had been almost completely suppressed in southern France within twenty years but the persecution lasted into the 14th century.

A final crusade against the Waldensians was declared in 1487 but Papal representatives continued to devastate towns and villages into the mid 16th century as the Waldensians became absorbed into the wider Protestant Reformation.

Later Protestant groups such as Baptists and Anabaptists sometimes point to the Waldensians as an example of earlier Christians who held beliefs similar to their own, including the belief in Believers Baptism and opposition to pedobaptism. The Mennonite book Martyr's Mirror lists them in this regard as it attempts to trace the history of believer's baptism back to the apostles.

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