At a glance along the list of birthplaces of people with Italian connections with the University around the turn of the 20th century, one small town kept cropping up – Torre Pellice, just outside of Turin. Being quite remote and high-up in the Alps, it seemed intriguing that anyone was traveling from there at this time. Perhaps Carlo Buffa and Alberto Billour, who enrolled in 1890 and 1893 respectively, already had Scottish links? But they only stayed for a year. During their time in Glasgow they also both lived at 2 Sutherland Terrace. It all just seemed too neat to be a coincidence.
Torre Pellice I soon learned was and still is the epicenter of the Waldensian Church. The Waldensians are a relatively small Protestant sect that developed in the 12th century in Southern France. The movement is said to have been founded by Peter Valdes (Waldo, Valdo, or Waldes), who sought to follow the example of Jesus and the Apostles by adopting a life of preaching and poverty. Valdes’ followers were actively persecuted by the Catholic Church which drove them out of France. They eventually settled in the mountains of the region of Piedmont. Persecuted for their Protestant principles for centuries, it was not until 1848 that the Waldensians were granted religious freedom by King Charles Albert of Piedmont-Sardinia.
The Waldensian community founded a School of Theology at their headquarters of Torre Pellice in 1855. Part of the training to become a Waldensian minister was a compulsory year abroad – ‘l’anno di perfezionamento’ – at a University of their choice. The Waldensian community had had a connection with Britain as early as 1825. The Anglican Church and Scottish Presbyterians founded a support committee in order to help visiting pastors and students when undertaking their foreign exchange. It seems that it was quite common for these theology students to come to Scotland in particular; in fact, Carlo Buffa’s brother Giovanni spent his year at the University of Edinburgh from 1881-2.
Alberto Billour spent his year at the University of Glasgow studying English, presumably in order to better his grasp of the language before embarking on his missionary journey to North America; while Buffa studied Moral Philosophy under Professor Edward Caird and is thought to have founded a school for the children of Italian immigrants in Glasgow.
Both Billour and Buffa went on to join Waldensian communities in Canada and the US. Perhaps travelling there on the SS Waldensian (built in 1861 by Barclay, Curle & Co. Ltd. of Glasgow), which sailed from Glasgow to Canada during the 1880s.
Buffa was invited first to Monnett, Missouri by Pastor Giovanni Pietro Salomon, then later he traveled to Montreal in Canada. Billour instead journeyed to towns in Pennsylvania and Illinois helping build grassroot Waldensian movements. Neither Buffa nor Billour remained in America but they were integral to the creation and growth of communities of Waldensians that exist to this day and who take pride in their Italian heritage.
By Olivia Tolaini, MA History