Lia McClanahan wrote the following in the June 2014 Ensign:
In 1849, Elder Lorenzo Snow (1814-1901) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles was called to establish a mission to Italy. As he was contemplating where to commence, he learned about the Waldensians, a religious community in the Piedmont mountains of northwestern Italy.
The Waldensians had endured extreme persecutions over seven centuries because of their beliefs. Predating the Protestant Reformation by several hundred years, they preached that Christ’s early Church had fallen into apostasy. They separated themselves from the Roman Catholic Church and were declared heretics, driven from cities, tortured, and slaughtered. Rather than renounce their faith, they fled to the upper mountains.
“A flood of light seemed to burst upon my mind when I thought about [the Waldensians],” recorded Elder Snow. In a letter he wrote, “I believe that the Lord has there hidden up a people amid the Alpine mountains.”
These three paragraphs peeked by interest. I studied medieval history as an under graduate at BYU, and have a vague memory of discussing the movement. As Snow noted, there are some similarities between the Waldensian movement and Mormonism, but the comparison isn’t a particularly good one.
In point of fact, the Waldensians seem to share more with Franciscan Order (Catholic) than they do with Mormonism. According to legend, movement-founder Peter Waldo renounced his wealth and decided to preach. Because of the shunning of wealth, particularly that of the Roman Catholic clergy, the movement was early known as the “Poor of Lyon.” In the beginning, the Waldensian movement was characterized by lay preaching, voluntary poverty, and strict adherence to the Bible. Between 1175 and 1185, Waldo was involved in a project to translate the Bible into the local vernacular.
Seen by the Catholic Church as unorthodox, the Waldensians were formally declared heretics in 1184 and again in 1215. In 1211, more than 80 adherents were burned as heretics in Strawsbourg, beginning several centuries of persecution that nearly destroyed the movement. During the Reformation, they ultimately adapted their beliefs to those of the Reform Church.
In 1848, after many centuries of harsh persecution, the Waldensians acquired legal religious freedom in the Kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia in present-day northern Italy. Subsequently, the Waldensian Evangelical Church developed and spread throughout the Italian peninsula.
According to a short paper by Diane Stokoe titled: “The Mormon Waldensians”:
But of the 21,000 Waldensians living in the Protestant Valleys [northern Italy] in 1850, only 187 joined the Mormon Church. During the 16-year period the Italian Mission remained open, 74 of the group were excommunicated, 72 emigrated to Utah (primarily as members of 12 families), and the remaining converts drifted into inactivity or returned to their faith.
The Waldensian experience as Mormon converts [in Utah] mirrored the experiences of other ethnic groups: first there was contact with the Mormon elders in their homeland, next came conversion, then immigration and settlement, followed by amalgamation into the larger Mormon society.