Henry A. Fischer
At the beginning of undertaking my research into my family origins in Hungary, I ran across references in some Danube Swabian histories and studies to some settlers whose origins were not from the German speaking principalities within the Holy Roman Empire, but from France, Italy and Spain. Most of these references dealt with the Banat in present day Serbia and Rumania. When I managed to discover the list of the earliest settler families at Kotcse in Somogy County dated April 1730, a few of the Lutheran and Reformed settlers from the Palatinate and Hesse had non-German names. The one that struck me in particular was Gaspari, which is Italian. There were others that were of French origin but had been Germanized and this would be true in several other villages. Names like Simon, Rollion, Wallis, Thorau and Lafferton to mention just a few.
In my later research I discovered that several of these families came from the village of Ruesselsheim in Hesse, which was also true of some of my own family connections, the Wolfs and Bruders who were among the settlers in Kotcse. That reference provoked consternation on my part later when I followed up on other aspects of the Counter Reformation in Europe that might have affected the persecution we endured under the Habsburgs and Jesuits in Hungary. In investigating the barbarous Albigensian Crusades unleashed by the Papacy in the tenth and eleventh centuries in southwest France, there were also references to the persecution of the followers of Peter Waldo, who were known as the Poor Men from Lyon, a movement that had spread throughout Provence in France. The survivors were later known as the Waldensians. They were dissenters against papal wealth and power and the corruption of New Testament Christianity and became an underground movement as wandering missionaries that spread across Europe preaching an apostolic gospel. Many of them were tradesmen and merchants and in this way their teachings against Rome were circulated everywhere. I had found a reference to them in Oedenburg (Sopron) in Hungary in the 15th century when their mission there was exposed and then suppressed by the local clergy and several of the town folk both men and women were burned at the stake. Oedenburg would later become a stronghold of Lutheranism with the introduction of Martin Luther’s writings in the early 1520s when clandestine study groups emerged among the citizenry that led to the formation of a congregation that exists to this day.
The persecution of the Waldensians by the papacy would go on for over eight hundred years, and yet they managed to survive, principally in the Piedmont valleys, in the alpine borderlands between present day France and Italy, and most of the Waldensian were of French and Italian origin, and found sanctuary in the mountains and a beneficent Savoyan princess. But the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes by Louis XIV of France in 1685 that ordered the conversion of all Protestants to Roman Catholicism led to the flight of hundreds of thousands of Hugenots (Protestants) across the Rhine into Holland, England and the German territories, where a notable number received asylum in Hesse. Unlike their other French compatriots the Waldensians refused to flee and stood their ground and faced crusading armies for the next thirty years, in which their numbers were decimated and many of the women and children fled into the French and Italian speaking cantons of Switzerland and southwest Germany. In the end their resistance was broken and some ten thousand of them went into exile into Western Europe, primarily Holland and the German principalities that were Reformed or Lutheran while other hid in the mountains.
Of those who fled across the Rhine, there were numbers who were settled in the territories of Count Ludwig Ernest of Hesse, who allowed them to form colonies of their own and allowed the use of their language in church and school. The land they were given, was often not of the best, nor was there much additional land available to them as the colony grew. One of these colonies was at Ruesselsheim and is the link to our family history and our history of dissent. The Gaspari family had its origins there and their many descendants spread throughout Somogy and Tolna Counties. It was because of that I undertook a study of the history of the Waldensians that I would like to preserve for our descendants as part of their self-identity and heritage.
From the archives of Landgraeflich Hessische Landesregierung zu Homburg:
1686 ff.: Landgraf Friedrich II. von Hessen-Homburg erlaubt die Einwanderung von Hugenotten und deutsch Reformierten. Gruendung des Dorfes Friedrichsdorf.
1699: Gruendung des Dorfes (Neu-)Dornholzhausen durch zugewanderte Waldenser.
More on Waldesians: http://www.giveshare.org/churchhistory/waldenses/notesonwaldensianchurch.html