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CHURCH OF SAN GIOVANNI.
The new church of San Giovanni is a large brick building, which stands nobly upon rising ground, and may be seen at some distance. Nearly opposite to it is the Roman Catholic church. Before the great door of the former, I was surprised to see a lofty screen, or palisade; and concluded that the front of the edifice had never been finished. But this unsightly wood-work was erected, that the pious Romanists of San Giovanni might not be shocked, at seeing their heretical neighbours enter their place of worship, or house of abomination. The number of the latter amounts to seventeen hundred, and more; that of the former does not exceed forty! The old Protestant Church was destroyed above a hundred years ago, in one of the persecutions, and never suffered to be rebuilt till the French occupied Piemont. It has been the policy of the government not to allow a dilapidated church or presbytery of the Waldenses to be restored : and to this hour the pastor of San Giovanni has not been permitted to have a house appropriated to his office, as the ministers of the other twelve parishes have. When the French put the Vaudois upon the same footing as the other inhabitants of the province, they took advantage of their privileges, and built a new church. But what was the consternation of the Protestant population of San Giovanni, when the edict of May, 1814, commanded them to shut up the sacred edifice! Their supplications were unnoticed ; the court paid no attention to its heretical subjects, and the interdict would have continued, but for the repeated intervention of the Protestant ambassadors; among whom the Prussian minister exerted himself with his wonted ardour. The church was reopened, but only upon the humiliating condition of raising this hideous screen, this deformity, so disgraceful to the Papists who insisted upon its erection, and so mortifying to the professors of the other creed, who are obliged to submit to it.
The scruples of the Romanists of La Torre were indulged
in another matter, equally at the expence of the Protestants of that village. The new school gave offence: the Papists were scandalised as they passed it, to hear the infant heretics repeating their wicked lessons! Their remonstrances were respected by the minister of the interior, who, when he found he could not shut up the school, removed the scandal, as far as he could, by commanding a partition to be made on the outside, so that the ears of the faithful might no longer be offended. Such are the pitiful and vexatious proceedings, which are still in force against the innocent and harmless Waldenses. The opinions of the age will no longer allow of corporal punishment for religious differences, and bigotry therefore is obliged to content itself with this wretched mode of shewing its disappointment.
As it cannot be cruel, it is ridiculous.
After leaving the village of San Giovanni, we entered a lovely vale. The Pelice flowed in the middle: on the other side of the river stood Luzerna, which is seen to great advantage from the road. La Torre was directly before us, and the heights of Angrogna rose magnificently to the right. This is by far the richest spot which is left in possession of the Protestants. In the sweet language of Italy it is indeed “una pianura fertile e graziosa, e l'amenità della campagna rende questo viaggio sommamente delizioso." Gardens and vineyards, orchards and groves, corn land and pastures, mulberry trees and the stateliest chesnuts, are intermingled in the most picturesque confusion; and the variety of hill and dale, before the acclivities swell into mountains, complete one of the loveliest landscapes in Piemont.
The descriptions of Leger, the historian of the Vaudois, are generally plain matter-of-fact statements, where the style is uniform; but the beauties of San Giovanni, for once, called forth a more animated strain. “ It would be a little earthly paradise,” said he, “ if it were not besieged by Roman Catholics on the east and on the south. It is a
VALE OF SAN GIOVANNI.
beautiful vale, embroidered on the south by verdant meadows, which are watered by the river Pelice: the rest of the vale does not merely consist of corn fields, but of fields, vineyards, and orchards intermixed. The vines are trained up to the very tops of lofty trees; and the tendrils, twining together, and forming graceful festoons, stretch from branch to branch, and ferment des ravissantes treilles, under which the peasants are seen plowing with their oxen, or reaping the finest wheat in the world. All the roads, the walks, and the hedges, which separate different farms, are agreeably bordered with different sorts of fruit trees, and particularly with mulberries, which the inhabitants cultivate for their silk-worms, and which help them to raise the money
their rents and taxes. This vale is environed and adorned, on the north and west, by the most superb costiere, as they call it, in the world, and the prettiest hills imaginable, which look like one continued vineyard, or bower of vines, under which they sow all kinds of grain; while the soil is refreshed by means of a conduit of water brought from the torrent of Angrogna.”
When we arrived at the torrent of Angrogna, the smiling features of San Giovanni were immediately succeeded by the more grand and imposing scenery of La Torre. We were now again in the midst of mountains, and had hastened on, that we might be in time for the church service, when the sound of the steeple bell, pouring its music on the breeze, greeted us with the welcome information that we were not too late. The clatter of the wheels, and the unusual sight of a carriage in this secluded village brought but few people to the doors; for almost all were gone, or hurrying forward, to the house of God. We alighted at the little inn, and joined those who had not yet reached the sacred spot, to which they were bending their steps; and the greetings and salutations, which passed between M. Vertu and the cheerful-looking groupes whom we overtook, were even more affecting than what we witnessed at San
Giovanni; for here he was in his native parish, and in the midst of relations. Almost every one whom he accosted was an uncle or an aunt, or a cousin of near or distant branch. But however interesting at the moment it may be to see the hearty shake of the hand, and the kind salute of kindred and clanship, it must be considered as one of the evils to which they are exposed, that the little community of the Waldenses must be for ever intermarrying, family with family. Romanists and Protestants cannot wed, under the risk of being subjected to a variety of vexatious suits ; and the consequence is, that there is no end to the connexions, which are perpetually forming between very near relatives.
The first appearance of La Torre gives a more favourable idea of this village, than a closer inspection will permit the traveller to form. The two bridges that are built over the torrent at its entrance, the water-mill and the Popish church, that are seen to the right, with the ruins of the old castle that peep from among the trees by which they are surrounded, on a hill that rises sufficiently high to command the village, are picturesque objects, which cheat the imagination into the belief, that La Torre itself must be a most enviable spot. But the street is narrow and ugly, and the houses are poorly constructed, and stand close together. The broadest part is dignified by the name of the Square, or Place de la Tour; and the principal building in it is a long heavy-looking edifice, which is still called the palace, although no longer the residence of the ancient Counts of La Torre. The family is extinct, and the house is now the property of one of the Vertus, who occupies a part, and lets the rest.
After passing through a long line of street, we came to a hamlet which is called the Borgo of S. Marguerita, from whence the church of La Torre, overhung by the tremendous crag of Castaluzzo, is seen to great advantage. In passing through La Torre, every thing that I saw reminded me of
CHURCH OF LA TORRE.
what I had been accustomed to in England on a Sabbathday, so unlike the usual appearance of towns on the continent. Silence and decency prevailed in the streets, smartness in the dress, and cleanliness in the countenance of the rustics. Even the clean close caps of the female peasantry resembled those of my own native parish in Suffolk; and when we reached the church-yard the comparison was still more striking; for the villagers were assembled before the church-door, waiting for the clergyman, who had not yet come, and enjoying the fineness of the weather. The sunshine of the heart seemed to harmonize with the brightness of the day. I employed the short interval before we entered the sacred walls, in taking a view of the objects around me. The Church of La Torre is rather a large building, and stands upon a very picturesque eminence, surrounded by trees and vineyards, and at the distance of about a mile from the village. The rising ground on which it is built bursts abruptly towards the north and west, into rocky eminences, and these into lofty crags and towering mountains ; some of which protrude so far from their base, that they look as if they would inevitably fall, and overwhelm every thing below them. The church-yard might be rendered still more pleasing to the eye, if the graves and turf were kept in better order; but I have never seen any consecrated spot on the other side of the channel, which in this respect can compare with those of our own. The front of the church not only commands a prospect of the village, and the winding road conducting from it, but also a very extensive view of the vale through which the Pelice flows, on the San Giovanni side: and the heights above are said to present the magnificent sight of the plains of the Po, spreading like a map before the eye.
M. Bert, the exemplary pastor of La Torre, soon arrived in his gown and band, and received the affectionate attentions of his flock, before he preceded them into church. The service commenced with reading two chapters from the