Italy’s Christian Heritage

The early settlement of the Italian Peninsula – Israelite heritage

According to legend, Rome was founded in 753 BC by Romulus. Romulus and his twin brother Remus were sons of Mars, the god of war. After having been abandoned by an evil uncle, the two infants were said to have been nursed by a wolf until found and later brought up by a shepherd.

Historical sources, however, indicate that Rome was most probably founded by descendants of Abraham, that is people from the Zarah branch of Judah settling in Italy long before Romulus and Remus. After the fall of Troy in the 12th century BC, which had been a Zarahite colony, the Trojan prince Aeneas (reported by the Greek scribe Homer in his so-called epos) led his followers with ships to their final destination - Italy).1

Later, some of the lost tribes of Israel also made their way through northern Italy. After the Assyrian captivity (deportation 721 BC)2 the ten tribes of the former Northern Kingdom of Israel migrated through central Europe; some passed through northern Italy and left evidence of their movements along the way. For example the river Po used to be called “Eridanus”, including the name of the tribe of “Dan”. Another example is the name of the island Sardinia, which retains elements of “Dan” (Din) as well as “Zarah” (Zar-Din-ia).3 The apostle Paul must have been aware that some of the lost sheep of Israel were to be found in Italy as he stated during his passage to Rome: “… for the hope of Israel I am bound with this chain” (ACTS 28:20).

The Apostle PaulThe Apostle Paul What this actually meant was the Roman pagan system of idol worship was transformed into a system that merely appeared Christian and gave birth to the Roman Catholic Church. Accordingly, images like “Fortuna and Jupiter” were renamed as “Madonna with Child”.4 Constantine further transformed the pagan tradition of the worship of Easter (the godess of dawn, and the return of spring) into a national “Christian” holiday. This supposedly gives honour to the resurrection of Christ, but keeps the exact pattern of heathen worship. In fact, the Bible does not give us any instruction that we should celebrate this day.5 Likewise, many Roman temples were transformed into Catholic churches. Events such as these ensured that the Roman church had a rapid increase of new members from a heathen background, and guaranteed a religious influence on a slowly crumbling empire.
Santa Pudenziana, Rome

In 2 TIMOTHY 4:21, Paul mentions his half-brother Rufus Pudens, Claudia (Caractacus’ daughter) and her cousin Eubulus: “… Eubulus greeteth thee, and Pudens, and Linus, and Claudia, and all the brethren.” Linus, Claudia’s brother-in-law, was later ordained the first bishop of Rome by Paul, not the apostle Peter, as Roman Catholic doctrine suggests. 6,7

The Apostle Paul in Rome

Santa Pudenziana, RomeSanta Pudenziana, Rome Paul had been one of the greatest persecutors of the young Christian church in Israel, but through a mighty vision of the Lord Jesus was converted and became one of the most passionate defenders of Christianity. It had been a great burden on his heart to preach the gospel in Rome, the capital of the ancient world, as we read in ACTS 19:21: “After these things were ended, Paul purposed in the spirit, when he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, to go to Jerusalem, saying, After I have been there, I must also see Rome.”

Having preached the gospel in the above destinations, Paul was arrested for this cause. The Lord then appeared to him in another vision recorded in ACTS 23:11: “And the night following the Lord stood by him, and said, Be of good cheer, Paul: for as thou hast testified of me in Jerusalem, so must thou bear witness also at Rome.”

After two years of imprisonment through the governor Felix, this prophecy was fulfilled: As Felix handed Paul over to the Jews, Paul, being a Roman citizen, pleaded upon Caesar to judge his cause and save his life. After a long and fatiguing journey by ship, Paul arrived in Rome around 56 AD. The Bible tells us about Paul’s ministry in Rome: “And Paul dwelt two whole years in his own hired house, and received all that came in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence, no man forbidding him.” (ACTS 28:30-31). During his time in Rome, Paul wrote some of his well-known letters (Paul did not write the letter to the Romans in Rome - who would have sent greetings to people he could have spoken to himself!). Letters that later became part of the Holy Bible, as well as the letter to Philemon and to the churches of the Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. According to tradition, Paul was beheaded in Rome around 67 AD.6

Revival and Persecution

Early Christians exposed to deathEarly Christians exposed to death In the year 64 AD, the young church in Rome experienced its first severe persecution through the neurotic emperor Nero. After several years of relative peace the persecution revived under the emperor Domitian. At times, the persecutors didn’t even stop at entering into the catacombs (Christian burial and meeting places), to continue their merciless hunt. This happened despite the Roman tradition of not shedding blood in sanctified places. The emperor Trajan passed the first law concerning the treatment of followers of this new religion in 112 AD: that Christians should not be followed up and denounced. However, Christianity was still a prohibited religion, and as it did not honour the Roman pagan state religion, Christians were considered political offenders. Further systematic persecutions took place under Decius (250 A.D.) and Valerian (257 A.D.) with the purpose of depriving the churches of their leaders and thereby destroying them. The last and most terrible persecution was at the beginning of the 4th century under Diocletian and Galerius, but it did not succeed in suppressing Christianity.

In spite of Christianity being recognized as the state religion under Constantine the Great in 313 AD1, persecution arose with the rise of papal power during the following centuries, and Christians suffered persecution throughout the whole country. Many thousands of so-called “heretics” lost their lives in their battle for freedom from the Roman Catholic Church. Hundreds of thousands died as martyrs, suffering indescribable tortures.

The Waldenses and the Reformation in Italy

In 1059 AD, as the churches in northern Italy submitted to the Pope, those who did not want to submit fled into the Cottian Alps of Northwest Italy that became known as the Valley of the Waldenses. In the 14th century, Papal troops began entering even those valleys, cruelly massacring thousands of civilians, not sparing infants, women or the elderly. (see theme sheet “The Huguenots, Waldenses, and Catharians”).

Waldensian ValleyWaldensian Valley The Reformation had already been in existence for several years “before the news reached the remote valleys of the Waldenses. When they heard the news, ‘they were like men who dreamed’. They were eager to find out if the reports were indeed true, that a large segment of believers had thrown off the yoke of Rome. In 1526, the Waldensian Synod sent Pastor Martin on a mission of enquiry. He returned with joyous news that the Gospel, so long preached in the Valleys, was now being “proclaimed in many places of northern Europe.”8 “The first noteworthy traces of the Reformation in Italy appeared in the north, at Venice, but the culmination was reached in the south, at Naples between 1520 and 1540.”9

The Roman Catholic Church reacted deliberatetly and systematically and organized “The Inquisition”, which led to the torture and death of numberless so-called heretics throughout all of Europe until about 1570.9 In Italy, especially, the Christian population of the Waldensian valleys in Piedmont and the plains around Venice suffered heavy persecution; the region of Calabria was completely depleted of Christians in a bloody, merciless hunt. Trying to convert the true believers in Christ back to Roman Catholicism, inquisitors tortured thousands to death. Those who would not deny their faith were most brutally tortured beyond imagination and killed. Reports, too disturbing to be mentioned on this site can be gained from “Fox’s Book of Martyrs”.10

Seeking help from Protestant Europe, Oliver Cromwell positioned gunboats to force justice for the Waldensians from the Duke of Savoy in 1655, “but peace was not to last long. In 1686 a decree was promulgated to deny Waldensians of all liberty. The majority decided to go to Switzerland in exile. Of the 12,000 inhabitants from the valleys less than 4,000 reached safety; the rest were martyred or died along the way.”11

“A brief but glorious episode can be revealed when, in 1870, the Papal States were abolished and the city of Rome was opened to all. One of the first to enter Rome was a Waldensian colporteur [missionary] with a bundle of Bibles,”12 preaching the gospel in this, the home of the worst enemy of their faith.

Pentecostal Revival in Italy

Reform preacher being burned alive in FlorenceReform preacher being burned alive in Florence The history of the Pentecostal revival in Italy started with the revival at Azusa Street, Los Angeles, California, where some Italian immigrants caught the Holy Ghost fire. One of these immigrants was Luigi Francescon who would become one of the leading figures of the Pentecostal movement in Italy. Having emigrated to America in 1890, it was not until 1907 that Francescon received the Holy Spirit with the sign of speaking in a new tongue and was baptized after having made contact with the evangelist William H. Durham. Many of his fellow countrymen in America followed his example. In April 1908 the first four missionaries were sent to Italy, but had little success. Only one stayed, the rest returned to America, discouraged by the scanty results of the campaign.

The few converts, as well as some of their relatives, decided to follow the missionaries back to America. Francescon’s former fellow combatant from America, Giacomo Lombarde, finally rejoined him in Italy after he had stayed back on his own. Together God used them mightily to spread the full gospel of baptism with the Holy Ghost fire and full immersion in water, in Italy (JOHN 3:1-8; ACTS 2:37-39). The first assembly was founded in Rome in 1910, and within the following years more churches were planted throughout the whole country.

n the 1930’s, the fascist regime under Mussolini gained power. This led to the passing of a law, in 1935, that restricted the Pentecostal churches by forbidding them to assemble and spread their beliefs. Like in ancient times, believers were again forced to meet secretly in private homes and were subject to severe persecution. After the fall of Mussolini’s regime in July 1943, and the liberation of Italy through allied troops, the persecution of Christians officially ended in June 1944.

Believers from all social classes quickly reassembled in public meetings and during the following years the Pentecostal movement experienced a mighty revival.13 Nowadays, there are a number of little Pentecostal groups and churches throughout the still strongly Roman Catholic-dominated and influenced country. Surprisingly enough, there is a Pentecostal T.V. & radio channel!

Our prayer is that God will pour out His Spirit again on our beloved country in a great revival and that many more souls will be added to His Kingdom!

“Salute all them that have the rule over you, and all the saints. They of Italy salute you. Grace be with you all. Amen” (HEBREWS 13:24-25).

  • 1. a. b. Daniel R. Walsh, Lost Tribes of Israel Study Maps, Vol 1, Celtica (1995).
  • 2. Lutherbibel (1912), LBN La Buona Novella, 1999.
  • 3. Daniel R. Walsh, Lost Tribes of Israel Study Maps, Vol 3, Celtica (1995).
  • 4. See: Christmas: Is it from the Bible - or Paganism?.
  • 5. See: Easter: Is Easter Really Christian? You should know! The Bible does not once command us to observe Easter.
  • 6. a. b. Daniel R. Walsh, Lost Tribes of Israel Study Maps, Vol 4, Celtica (1995).
  • 7. George F. Jowett, The Drama of the Lost Disciples, Covenant Publishing (1993), p. 128.
  • 8. Dr. Bill Jackson, The Noble Army of 'Heretics', chapter 5, par. 3, and Social Constantinianism <angelfire.com>.
  • 9. a. b. K. Benrath, The Reformation in Italy <ccel.com>.
  • 10. John Foxe, Fox’s Book of Martyrs.
  • 11. Dr. Bill Jackson, The Noble Army of 'Heretics' <angelfire.com>.
  • 12. Dr. Bill Jackson, The Noble Army of 'Heretics' <angelfire.com>.
  • 13. Stefano Bogliolo, La storia del Risveglio Pentecostale in Italia, Verso la Meta (2002).