Waldensian Bibles Editions from the 15th to the 19th century

A temporary exhibition at the Waldensian Cultural Centre Foundation, Torre Pellice, curated by Marco Fratini, Lorenzo Di Lenardo and Stefania Villani


The Library of the Waldensian Cultural Centre Foundation possesses a rich collection of Bibles with about 3500 printed volumes, from the 15th to the 21st century.
Since the Waldensian movement was born, in the Middle Ages, from a choice of fidelity to the Bible, which has been one of the distinctive elements of its identity over the centuries, an extensive three-year project has been dedicated to this type of books, starting with the cataloguing of the volumes in the National Library Service and the study of the specimens, and ending with the return of the results through a publication and an exhibition.

As the Bible was the first book produced using movable type and the text translated into the largest number of languages, its dissemination has left deep and lasting traces in Western society. In particular, in the Protestant world, apart from its use in churches, it has occupied a central place in the lives and homes of believers, having been the first and one of the few books owned in past centuries.

The exhibition is open until 13th November 2022.

The exhibition

The exhibition illustrates the relationship between the Waldensians (and Protestants) and the Bible by means of a selection of around one hundred ancient and modern specimens belonging to the Foundation's Library, which is now approaching its two-hundredth anniversary.
The exhibition is in fact strongly linked to the history of the book collection: the notes of possession make it possible to trace the provenance of each specimen, whose context of belonging is reconstructed, and the dynamics of transmission with which Waldensian families, foreign donors and some collectors identified the Library as the appropriate subject for the preservation of the community's cultural heritage.

The exhibition is divided into three sections, offering different looks at the translation, diffusion, reading and conservation of the Bible, as text and as object, in different contexts.

1. The contribution of Waldenses and Protestants to the tradition and circulation of the Bible in modern Europe. In this panorama - which shows how a text considered immutable was susceptible to continual revisions, interpretations and debate - the following stand out: the translation of the "Olivetan" Bible printed in 1535 thanks to the financing of the Waldensians, one of the greatest contributions to the European Reformation; the translation of the exile Giovanni Diodati, the last attempt at religious Reformation in the Peninsula, when by then the reading of the Bible in the national language was subject to strict ecclesiastical control.

2. The presence of the Bible in the daily life of the Waldensians in the Valleys of Piedmont between the 18th century and the end of the 19th century. The constant and personal relationship of the Protestant believer with the biblical text emerges from the numerous possession notes, and the notes on family life transformed each book from a document into a kind of monument. The section also deals with the issues of reading and literacy and the episodes of censorship, confiscations and Bible burnings.

3. The rich collection of hundreds of Bibles that belonged to Tito Chiesi, preserved partly in Torre Pellice and partly in the Waldensian Faculty of Theology in Rome, also recounts his mediation activities with foreign Protestant Bible societies in the work of disseminating the Bible text in post-Risorgimento Italy.

On the occasion of the exhibition, the catalogue of the Bible collections of the Waldensian Library in Torre Pellice and that of the Waldensian Faculty of Theology in Rome was published in the series of "Quaderni di patrimonio culturale valdese". It offers the history of the formation of the two collections, an aventura of essays by Italian and foreign specialists on the history of Bible translations in Europe from the 15th to the 20th century, and the files of a selection of the most significant specimens.