Italy Church History

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Research procedures and genealogical sources are different for each religion; therefore, it is helpful to understand the historical events that led to the creation of records in which your family was listed, such as parish registers.

Roman Catholic[edit | edit source]

The Roman Catholic Church has been the dominant religion in Italy for over 1,500 years. The Reformation had little effect except in small areas in the north. Even today, most of the Italian population belongs to the Roman Catholic Church.

Waldensians[edit | edit source]

In 1170, three centuries before Martin Luther, a merchant named Peter Valdo began a religious movement in Lyons, France. At first, Valdo advocated merely simplifying the Catholic Church; he did not want to create a new church. However, since church officials saw him and his followers as a threat, the Waldensians were excommunicated. Because of heavy persecutions in southern France, the Waldensians moved into the Piemonte mountain valleys and the Lombardia region of Italy.

Many Waldensian "heretics" were burned at the stake during the 1300s and 1400s in Italy and France. Persecution continued for centuries, and the religious group moved frequently between France, Italy, and Switzerland. They finally settled several valleys in the Alps that were virtually inaccessible. This allowed the Waldensians to remain a somewhat isolated but still persecuted religious group until the sixteenth century.

In the sixteenth century the Waldensians aligned themselves with the Protestant Reformation, and the following century of persecution and religious wars forced many Waldensians to move to other parts of Italy and to other parts of the world, such as South America.

In 1690 the Duke of Savoia granted them acceptance, which eliminated most of the persecution. In the 1800s Napoleon recognized them as part of the Reformed Church of France. Freedom of worship in Italy was granted to them by law in 1848. Although Protestants have made up only a small fraction of the total Italian population, most Italians who emigrated to the United States before 1820 were Waldensians.

Eastern or Greek Orthodox[edit | edit source]

In 1431 the king of Albania surrendered to the Turks. For many years, the Muslim Turks persecuted the Christian Albanians. As a result, many Albanian Christians migrated to Italy.

Few of the settlements along the coastline existed for very long. In Sicilia, however, Albanian immigrants settled entire towns. As a result, in many of these settlements the major religion was Eastern or Greek Orthodox. Many Italians found it convenient to attend the closer Eastern or Greek Orthodox Church until a Roman Catholic Church was built nearby. Consequently, many Italian families may be found in the registers of both churches.

Other Churches[edit | edit source]

Since the turn of the century, major cities have seen the establishment of congregations of Evangelists, Baptists, Anglicans, Methodists, and so forth. Many of these congregations are made up of non-Italians who live in Italy. In more recent years, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has also established congregations.

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