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History of the Church in Italy
By David R. Crockett

Part I: 1949 - 1900

1849-1850: The first missionaries arrive

During October 1849 General Conference, it was "moved and carried" that "Lorenzo Snow and Joseph Toronto go on a mission to Italy." Elder Lorenzo Snow had recently been called as a member of the Twelve. Joseph Toronto was a native of Sicily, a natural choice to introduce the gospel for the first time to Italy. In less than two weeks, Elder Snow made the necessary arrangements and bid good-bye to his family. On October 19, 1849, a company of missionaries left the Salt Lake Valley, heading east for their various missions. Shadrach Roundy was appointed captain of the company crossing the plains.

Elder Snow wrote:

In solemn silence, I left what, next to God, was dearest to my heart  my friends, my loving wife, and little children. As I pursued my journey, in company with my brethren, many conflicting feelings occupied my bosom  the gardens and fields around our beloved city were exchanged for the vast wilderness which lay spread out before us for a thousand miles . . . but we knew that the work in which we were engaged was to carry light to those who sat in darkness, and in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, and our bosoms glowed with love and out tears were wiped away. (Lorenzo Snow, The Italian Mission).
When the missionaries arrived in Kanesville, Iowa, the Saints greeted them with shouts and fired cannons in celebration. As the elders traveled on, they felt deep sadness when they visited Nauvoo and Carthage, Illinois. (Eliza R. Snow, Biography of Lorenzo Snow, 112-13)

On March 25, 1850, Elder Lorenzo Snow sailed on the ship "Shannon" and arrived in Liverpool, England on April 19. While laboring in England, Elder Snow felt impressed to call Thomas B. H. Stenhouse to accompany himself and Joseph Toronto to Italy. Elder Stenhouse accepted the call and left behind his wife and friends in England. Elder Snow watched this parting moment and thought, "Did the people of Italy but know the heart-rending sacrifices we have made for their sakes, they could have no heart to persecute."

On June 15, 1850 the elders departed for Italy. They traveled through Paris, and the south of France. They sailed on the waters of the Mediterranean and on June 25, 1850, the three elders arrived at their destination, Genoa, Italy. They saw the influence of Catholicism throughout the city and realized that the work would be challenging. Five days later, Elder Snow assigned Elders Toronto and Stenhouse to labor in Piedmont Valley, at the foot of the Alps. In this region was a Protestant community of about 21,000 people known as the Waldenses, or Waldensians. These people spoke French with a mixture of Italian.

Elder Lorenzo Snow remained in Genoa. The work quickly became discouraging. He wrote:

I am alone and a stranger in this vast city, eight thousand miles from my beloved family, surrounded by a people whose manners and peculiarities I am unacquainted. I am come to enlighten their minds, and instruct them in principles of righteousness; but I see no possible means of accomplishment this object. All is darkness in the prospect.
Elder Snow did meet a man from England who he had met before, who was very interested in Elder Snow's labors. But after learning that Elder Snow was a Mormon who believed that baptism was essential for salvation, the man became reluctant to hear any more.

Again somewhat discouraged, Elder Snow wrote: "I am now in a Roman Catholic country. Its inhabitants are before my eyes continually. My heart is pained to see their follies and wickedness--their gross darkness and superstition." Elder Snow soon received a letter from Elders Toronto and Stenhouse in Piedmont Valley. The elders were already experiencing some success! Elder Snow decided to join them. "I believe that the Lord has there hidden up a people amid the Alpine mountains, and it is the voice of the Spirit that I shall commence something of importance in that part of this dark nation." (Eliza R. Snow, Biography of Lorenzo Snow, 120-21)

Elder Lorenzo Snow arrived in Piedmont Valley on July 23, 1850. The beauty of the valley was striking and reminded Elder Snow of the Salt Lake Valley. Elder Joseph Toronto asked Elder Snow if he could visit his relatives in Sicily. Elder Snow approved of this idea and Elder Toronto departed the valley in early August.

For missionary work to progress among the Waldensians, Church literature written in French was needed. Elder Snow wrote a work he entitled "La Voix de Joseph" (The Voice of Joseph) which contained the Joseph Smith story and accounts of persecution against the Saints. Elder Snow was unable to find a person to translate the tract into French, so he sent it to Elder Orson Pratt in England. Elder Pratt had the work translated by a professor from the University of Paris.

1850: Missionary work begins; First baptism

During September, 1850, Elders Lorenzo Snow and Thomas Stenhouse prepared to take the gospel openly to the Waldensian people living in the Piedmont Valley of Italy.

It is believed that this Protestant community was founded by Christian missionaries as early as the first century. It later became a refuge for those who were opposed to changes in the Christian Church. In 1655, the Piedmont governor ordered all Waldensian families in the valley to convert to Catholicism or move from their homes within three days. Sadly a massacre ensued. About thirty years later they again fled from their homes, this time leaving the valley deserted for three years. Finally, in 1848 King Carlo Alberto of Sardina, granted these people complete freedom of religion, which prepared the way for the Mormon elders who arrived in the valley two years later. (Whence & Whither Origins and Descendants of Michael and Marianne Beus).

The elders boarded with the Grey family. On the morning of September 6, 1850, they learned that little three-year-old Joseph Grey was critically ill. Elder Snow related:

I went to see him in the afternoon, death was making havock of his body  his former healthy frame was now reduced to a skeleton, and it was only by close observation we could discern he was alive. As I reflected on our situation, and beheld this effort of the Prince of Darkness, to raise a barrier against us, and the establishment of the Gospel, my mind was fully awakened to a sense of our position. For some hours before I retired to rest, I called upon the Lord to assist us at this time. (Biography of Lorenzo Snow, 128).
On the following morning, Elders Snow and Stenhouse fasted and went to the mountains to pray. As they left the house, they saw Mrs Grey sobbing and Mr Grey saying, "He dies, he dies." In the mountains the two elders called upon the Lord in solemn prayer, requesting Him to spare the life of the child. Elder Woodruff understood that this matter was very important as they prepared to proclaim to these people that the Gospel, including gifts of the Spirit, had been restored to the earth.

The elders returned that afternoon, annointed the child with consecrated oil, and blessed him to be restored to health. A few hours later Mr. Grey visited the elders and told them that his son was much better. That night the parents were able to rest for the first time in many days. On the following day when the elders came to visit the little boy, Mrs. Grey rejoiced that his health had been restored. Elder Snow testified that he had been healed by the God of heaven.

Elder Snow realized that more help was needed in order to begin proselyting. He wrote to England requesting that Elder Jabez Woodard be sent to help with the work in Italy. He arrived on September 18. On the following day, September 19, 1850, Elder Lorenzo Snow proposed that they begin formal missionary work for the first time in Italy and that the Church be organized.

The three elders climbed a high mountain near La Tour. On a "bold projecting rock" they sang praises to the Lord and offered a prayer. Their petition to the Lord included: "From the lifting up of this Ensign, may a voice go forth among the people of these mountains and valleys, and throughout the length and breadth of this land; and may it go forth, and be unto thine elect as the Voice of the Lord, that the Holy Spirit may fall upon them, imparting knowledge in dreams and visions concerning this hour of their redemption."

The elders formally organized the Church in Italy with Lorenzo Snow as the president. The brethren sang, prayed and prophesied regarding the work in Italy. Elder Snow laid hands on Elders Stenhouse and Woodard, blessing them with comfort and power.

As they were about to descend from the mountain, Elder Snow proposed the mountain would be known to the Saints as "Mount Brigham" and the rock on which the stood would be called "Rock of Prophecy."

The elders started to attend small Protestant worship meetings held in homes. At times they were allowed to share some of their beliefs. This started to create a stir among the ministers. The elders were asked to attend a public meeting at which they were confronted by many ministers interested in stopping their efforts. The elders answered questions and preached for three hours. After the meeting one man, Jean Antoine Box, believed that the elders were servants of God. On October 27, 1850, he was the first person baptized in Italy.

Elder Lorenzo Snow shared his feelings about this historic and sacred occasion: "It was with no small degree of satisfaction I went down to the river side to attend to this ordinance. . . .I rejoiced that the Lord had thus far blessed our efforts and enabled us to open the door of the Kingdom in . . . Italy. My brethren stood on the river bank -- the only human witnesses of this interesting scene. Having long desired this eventful time, sweet to us all were the soft sounds of the Italian as I administered and opened a door which no man can shut." (Biography of Lorenzo Snow, 134-35).

1850-1851: Early baptisms; Branch established

During the latter part of the year 1850, Elder Lorenzo Snow and his companions continued their missionary labors among the good people of the Piedmont Valley in Italy. Elder Snow wrote to Franklin Richards:

Think not, dear Franklin, that we are amid the marble palaces, nor surrounded by the choice productions of art which adorn many portions of this wondrous land. Here, a man must preach from house to house, and from hovel to hovel. Here, many a dwelling has no glass in the windows; and from the scarcity of fuel, there is often no fire upon the hearth; and during the long winter evening, the family are huddled together in the stable, among the cattle, for the sake of a little warmth which they cannot find elsewhere. (Lorenzo Snow, The Italian Mission.)
The elders had been treated with respect by the local clergy, but none of them had any serious interests in the restored gospel. On a Sunday during November, one of the ministers warned his congregation to not consider leaving the church for which their fathers had died. Elder Snow mentioned in his letter: "What would have been his feelings if he had known that, in a few hours afterwards, I baptized one of his flock who had been listening to his admonition."

Despite their challenges, Elder Snow remained confident that the work would progress in Italy. "The time has now arrived when the Gospel must be sounded through the Earth, and Italy will hear its announcement! . . . The work here is slow and tedious. The spiritual atmosphere around us is like the Egyptian darkness which might be felt. Nevertheless, the Church has been established. The tree has been planted and is spreading its roots." (Ibid.)

Elder Lorenzo Snow decided to send Elder Thomas Stenhouse to labor in Switzerland. Elder Snow planned to visit England, to start making arrangements for the Book of Mormon to be translated into Italian. He decided to appoint Elder Jabez Woodward to lead the Church in Italy. On November 25, 1850, the three elders again climbed "Mount Brigham." This time their journey was hampered by snow. They finally reached the "Rock of Prophecy" and gazed over the valley.

Ancient and far-famed Italy, the scene of our mission, was spread out like a vision before our enchanted eyes. Light and shade produced their effect in that vast picture to a surprising degree; for while the clouds flung their shadows on one part, another was illuminated with the most brilliant sunlight, as far as the eye could reach. But there was one hallowing reflection which threw all around a brighter lustre than the noon-tide firmament: it was in that place, two months before, that we organized the Church of Jesus Christ in Italy. If we had stood upon a pavement of gold and diamonds, it would not have produced an impression like the imperishable remembrance of that sacred scene. (Ibid.)
The elders sang praises to the Lord and then Elder Snow ordained Elder Woodard as a High Priest and set him apart to lead the Church in Italy. Elder Stenhouse was likewise ordained and set apart to take the gospel to Switzerland. The elders returned to the valley and a few days later Elder Stenhouse departed.

Prior to leaving Italy, Elder Snow was finally able to find someone to publish his pamphlet, "The Voice of Joseph." It was a unique Mormon tract in that on the first page it displayed a woodcut of a Catholic nun, anchor, lamp, and cross. On the last page was a picture of Noah's ark, a dove, and an olive. This new work, written in French, told the story of the restoration. The elders immediately started to circulate it throughout the community. Another tract was published named, "The Ancient Gospel Restored."

In January 1851, Elder Snow left Italy in the capable hands of Elder Jabez Woodard. The work continued to progress. John Malan became interested in the gospel and allowed Elder Woodard to hold meetings in his home. At one meeting, as many as twenty-five people were in attendance. Soon the Malan family accepted the gospel and were baptized.

On February 24, 1851 two young men were baptized in the Angrogna River. During the service the clouds parted and "Mount Brigham" was in view from top to bottom. Elder Woodard exclaimed, "The veil over Italy has burst!" On the following day ten more people were baptized into the Church.

In May 1851, Elder Woodard reported that the Church in Italy consisted of twenty-one members. He had ordained several brethren to the priesthood and they were called to assist in the missionary effort. He called John D. Malan to be the president of the Angrogna Branch. Families who came into the Church about this time included: Beus, Cardon, Chatelain, and Goudin.

In the summer, Elder Joseph Toronto returned from Sicily after an unsuccessful missionary effort among his relatives. He joined with Elder Woodard in the Piedmont Valley. An anti-Mormon tract started to be circulated, but it had little impact on the work. In England, Elder Snow made good progress in his effort to publish an Italian translation of The Book of Mormon.

1852-1854: Lorenzo Snow's mission concludes

In February, 1852, Elder Lorenzo Snow crossed over the Alps and returned to Italy. He greeted Elders Woodard and Toronto in Turin. On the following day they met with the Saints of the Angrogna Branch. Elder Snow was very impressed with the members who had come into the Church since he left Italy. They had strong testimonies and had been blessed with dreams, visions, and healings. He marveled at the missionary success experienced in the valley despite restrictions on preaching in public. Elder Snow reflected:

The Waldenses were the first to receive the Gospel, but by the press and exertions of the Elders, it will be rolled forth beyond their mountain regions. At this season they are surrounded with now from three to six feet deep, and in many instances all communication is cut off between the villages. Our labors in such countries will be eminently blessed when we can have persons in the Priesthood who are not under the same disadvantages and liabilities as foreign Elders, and such are rising here. (Biography of Lorenzo Snow, 209)
Elder Snow decided to send Elder Jabez Woodard to Nice and leave the Saints in Piedmont Valley under the capable leadership of one of their own, John D. Malan. Brother Malan had only been a member of the Church for one year. Elder Snow made plans to take the gospel to Malta and decided to have Elder Woodard accompany him. They arrived in March, 1852. Elder Woodard returned to Piedmont Valley in July. The branch was still thriving.

After being away for three years, Elder Lorenzo Snow returned home to Salt Lake City, arriving on July 30, 1852. It was a bitter-sweet homecoming because one of his wives, Charlotte Merrill Snow, had died while he was away. She had died on September 25, 1850. [When Elder Snow's sister, Eliza R. Snow, compiled his biography many years later in 1884, she wrote that she believed Charlotte died on the very same day that Lorenzo Snow was on "Mount Brigham" dedicating Italy for the preaching of the gospel. However, it appears that Elder Snow ascended that mountain six days earlier, on September 19th. Others have claimed that she died on the same day that Elder Snow healed the child, but this was not the case. The child was blessed on September 7th.]

Three branches of the Church existed in the Piedmont Valley, Angrogna, St. Germain, and St. Bartholomew. The Book of Mormon became available in Italian, but only 192 copies of the 1000 printings were bound in 1852. The remainder of the copies would not be bound until many years later. (Michael W. Homer; BYU Studies Vol. 31, No. 2, pg.85)

In 1852 the Church leaders officially announced to the world that the Church practiced polygamy. Critics arose against the Church in Italy. Stephen Malan, son of John D. Malan wrote that one of the Waldensian ministers "announced to the people that [the Latter-day Saint missionaries] were a set of liars, that [they] were wolves in sheep's clothing, that [they] were hired by Brigham Young, to convert them as a bait to bring them to western deserts of America and, the recruits would be slaves, and your young women taken possession by that infamous polygamist and his associates to satiate their lust and debauchery." Nevertheless, such attacks did not seem to slow the work and more people desired to learn about their teachings. (Ibid.)

More missionaries were sent to help. In December, 1852, George D. Keaton and Thomas Margetts were sent from England. George W. Burridge joined them in 1853. The First Presidency's 1853 Epistle to the Church reported, "Elder Woodard has been banished from Italy, for teaching the truth, and passed over into Switzerland, according to the command of the Saviour to his disciples sent forth to preach his Gospel - When they persecute you in one place, flee to another."

In January, 1854, Elder Thomas Stenhouse, who had been presiding over the Swiss Mission, was appointed to take charge of the work in Italy. The two missions were combined into the Swiss and Italian Mission. Elders Margetts and Keaton continued their labors in Italy under the direction of President Stenhouse.

On Feb. 22, 1854, a company of fifty-eight Saints from Switzerland and Italy left Geneva for Utah. They traveled via Paris to Liverpool, England, accompanied by President Stenhouse. They then sailed to New Orleans on the ship "John M. Wood" under the direction of Robert L. Campbell.

On May 8, 1854, a new branch of the Church was organized in Piedmont, with nineteen members. Persecution was raging in the area.

1854-1900: Gathering to Utah; Mission closed

At a special Priesthood meeting held in Geneva on October 1, 1854, Daniel Tyler was sustained as successor to President Stenhouse as the president of the Swiss and Italian Mission. At that time there was a total membership in the mission of 292.

In September, 1854, Samuel Francis was appointed by President Tyler to preside over the Saints in Italy. A year later, in September, 1855 Franklin D. Richards, president of the European Mission visited Italy. Daniel Tyler recorded:

President Richards now decided to visit Italy, where there were a few Saints in the Waldensian valleys under the presidency of Elder Samuel Francis. These Saints were very poor, and the most of them lived very hard. Some of them having to subsist five months in the year on roasted chestnuts, and, perhaps, a little sheep's or goat's milk, without any other food, having to winter in stables in order to receive warmth from the animals in the absence of fuel. Brother Richards was accompanied by Elders William H. Kimball, John L. Smith, John Chislett, and myself.

About the time of our arrival one of the native brethren had by mistake eaten poison mushrooms, taking them for the variety often used as food in that country. He reeled as he walked to a chair, or stool, to receive the ordinance of laying on of hands. President Richards rebuked the poison, and he recovered. Shortly afterwards an outsider collected some of the same variety, which were cooked, and the man with his wife and children, died through eating them. (Daniel Tyler, auto in Classic Experiences, Pg. 45)

Many of the Italian Saints continued to emigrate to Utah. In November 1855, Elder Samuel Francis accompanied a small company of Saints as far as England. The Beus family, Susanna Goudin, and Peter Stalle were among this company. The group traveled by carriage, by railway, by sleds drawn by mules, and by foot to France. They then traveled by steamer to London. While in London, little Samuel Beus died. The company continued their journey by rail to Liverpool. On December 12, 1855, they sailed on the ship "John J. Boyd" bound for New York City. The Italian Saints became part of the Edmund Ellsworth handcart company which arrived in Salt Lake on September 26, 1856. Peter Stalle died on the trail. These Saints settled with other Italian Saints in the Ogden area. (Our Pioneer Heritage, 2:312, 14:298-99)

In 1856, there were three branches of the Church in Italy with a membership of sixty-four. During the previous three years about fifty members of the Church in Italy had emigrated to America. (Andrew Jenson, Encyclopedic History of the Church, p.369.)

In September 1857 Jabez Woodard was called to return to continental Europe. He succeeded John L. Smith as president of the Swiss and Italian Mission. In January, 1861, the name of mission was changed to Swiss, Italian and German Mission. During these years only a few more converts came into the Church. In May, 1861, John L. Smith again took over the leadership of the mission. Several Italian Saints went to America with Jabez Woodward. When he left there was only one branch (St. Germain) in Italy with eighteen members. In 1862 formal proselyting work ended in Italy.

In 1863, Brigham Young Jr. concluded his service as the president of the European Mission. Prior to returning home, he visited Italy. He wrote a letter home to his father which included this observation of Bologna:

I did not like this place at all. They show their vices a little too plain. As soon as we had arrived and fairly got the dust of from us, several ladies dressed in white presented themselves for us to pick from. They waited long and patiently but were disappointed at last. Such things as these make me disgusted with society as it exists at the present time, and long more earnestly for the society of virtuous men and women, which are only to be found as a community in my own loved home. (Letters of Brigham Young to his sons, p. 47)
In 1867 the Italian Mission was closed. The mission name was renamed to the Swiss and German Mission. During its seventeen-year history, about two hundred people were baptized in Italy.

In February-March, 1873, a company from Utah visited the Holy Land. On their way they visited Italy. This group included Elders Lorenzo Snow, George A. Smith, Sister Eliza R. Snow, and others.

In 1875, Joseph Toronto again went on a mission among his relatives in Sicily. He labored for two years and found success. On his return, he brought back, at his own expense, fourteen relatives and friends. (Our Pioneer Heritage, Vol. 19, p.470)

In 1882, John Henry Smith served as president of the European Mission. When he returned in 1885, he reported his attempt to reopen Italy for missionary work:

I went to Italy in the hope that I might see some chance of making an opening in that country. I came very near having two of the Elders starved by staying there. I was determined, however, to try and introduce the Gospel. There are some sections of the country that are Protestant, and I trust there may be a time come when the Gospel will spread among that people. But I regard Italy as in such a condition that there are but few chances at the present time for any opening to be made. The Italians are bound up in the religious faith that they have been reared in, or they are infidel almost entirely. I noticed in my attendance at the churches, that they are usually well filled with priests and beggars, and that few, comparatively speaking, of the well-to-do classes, or the middle classes, were paying any attention whatever to religious observance. (Journal of Discourses, 26:177, April 6th, 1885).
During the latter part of the 19th century, some of the original Waldensian members returned to their Italian home to do missionary work among their relatives and friends. Jacob Rivoire and his wife, Catherine Jouve were in Piedmont from 1879-1880. James Bertoch and Jules Grague spent a portion of their German-Swiss Mission in Piedmont between 1891 and 1893. Daniel Richards and Paul Cardon went among the Waldensians in 1900. Elder Cardon was successful in gathering many genealogy records. (Michael W. Homer; BYU Studies Vol. 31, No. 2, pg.89)

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© 2000 - 2003, David R. Crockett. Used with permission.
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