The Waldensians (also known as Waldenses (/wɔːlˈdɛnsz, wɒl-/), Vallenses, Valdesi or Vaudois) are adherents of a proto-Protestant church tradition that began as an ascetic movement within Western Christianity before the Reformation.

Waldensian symbol Lux lucet in tenebris ("A light shines in the darkness")
TheologyTheology of Peter Waldo and other Waldensian theologians, nowadays also that of John Calvin and other Reformed theologians
RegionItaly, France, Germany, Argentina, United States, Uruguay, and elsewhere
FounderPeter Waldo
Originc. 1173
Lyon, Kingdom of Burgundy-Arles in the Holy Roman Empire (now France)
Separated fromCatholic Church

Originally known as the "Poor Men of Lyon"[1] in the late twelfth century,[2][3] the movement spread to the Cottian Alps in what are today France and Italy. The founding of the Waldensians is attributed to Peter Waldo, a wealthy merchant who gave away his property around 1173,[2][3] preaching apostolic poverty as the way to perfection. Waldensian teachings came into conflict with the Catholic Church and by 1215 the Waldensians were declared heretical. Subjected to intense persecution, they were nearly annihilated in the 17th century and were confronted with organised and general discrimination in the centuries that followed. In the 16th century, the Waldensians influenced early Swiss reformer Heinrich Bullinger. Upon finding the ideas of other reformers similar to their own, they merged into the larger Protestant Reformation and, with the Resolutions of Chanforan on 12 September 1532, they formally became a part of the Calvinist tradition.

As early as 1631, Protestant scholars and Waldensian theologians began to regard the Waldensians as early forerunners of the Reformation, who, they believe, had maintained the apostolic faith in the face of Catholic oppression. Modern Waldensians share core tenets with Calvinists, including the priesthood of all believers, congregational polity and a "low" view of certain sacraments such as Communion and Baptism. They are members of the Community of Protestant Churches in Europe and its affiliates worldwide.

The main denomination within the movement was the Waldensian Evangelical Church, the original church in Italy. In 1975, it merged with the Methodist Evangelical Church to form the Union of Methodist and Waldensian Churches—a majority Waldensian church, with a minority of Methodists.[4][5][6] Another large congregation is the Evangelical Waldensian Church of Río de la Plata in Argentina, Paraguay, and Uruguay.[7][8]

Congregations continue to be active in Europe (particularly in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy), South America, and North America. Organizations such as the American Waldensian Society maintain the history of the movement and declare their mission as "proclaiming the Christian Gospel, serving the marginalized, promoting social justice, fostering inter-religious work, and advocating respect for religious diversity and freedom of conscience."[9]