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The Waldensians, founded in 1177 by Peter Waldo, were a Christian denomination prominent in the western Alps (in today's France). They rejected the traditions of the Roman Catholic Church, instead choosing to follow the Bible alone. Thus they can be seen as a form of proto-Protestantism. The Catholic Church declared their views heretical, and began to persecute them; many Waldensians were martyred, and many others had to flee to remote places (such as the Alps) to escape persecution.
They are widely admired by Protestants as forerunners of the Reformation, even by those Protestant groups that do not directly descend from them. When the Protestant Reformation came in the 1500s, many of the Waldensians joined in, with the bulk of them adopting Calvinism. There is still a Waldensian church surviving in Italy to this day, the Chiesa Evangelica Valdese, adhering to a broadly Calvinist outlook.
In 2015, Pope Francis asked them to forgive the Church for historic persecution.
During the Protestant Reformation, the doctrine of apostolic succession, by which Christian priests had to have an unbroken line of ordination going back to the Apostles, posed a problem for the newly splintered sects. Many responded by disavowing this doctrine altogether; however, some groups began to claim apostolic descent through the Waldensians. For this, they needed to deny the Waldensians' own claim to have been founded by Peter Waldo and instead claim that the Waldensian church was apostolic in origin. This involved the telling of a typical saint's myth, in which Paul of Tarsus visited the areas later known as the Waldensians' redoubts and established their churches
- Waldenses at the Catholic Encyclopedia (newadvent.org).