My Heretical Heritage

family treeBefore the 15th century word heretics had become common in Europe, three centuries earlier there was one group of non-conformists around the southeastern town of Lyon, France known as “the poor of Lyons” or the Waldensians.  In the literature of the time these “heretics” followed the teachings of a man known variously as Valdes, Valdesius, Valdensius, and Waldo (Valdo) from the city of Lyons.  Their apparent break from mainstream Catholicism began in about 1170 CE not because they gave up a life of comfort and wealth – in medieval Europe this was quite popular and common – but because Waldo began translating the Holy Scriptures into common speech and then allowed lay people to read it and share it anywhere.

Chambons, Italy

Chambons, Italy

If anyone is aware and knowledgeable of medieval Europe and the stranglehold the Roman Catholic Church and Vatican had over its parishioners and daily life, then you know the punishment for dissension or heresy was no slap-on-the-hand.  If the fathers or bishops deemed your behavior severe, you could lose your life or soul, or both.  The practices of Waldo and his followers was ecclesiastical usurping:  no one other than the church pontiffs could interpret and teach the Bible.  This crime was punishable by excommunication.  These are the times my maternal ancestors come from:  Waldensians:  the Bonnet clan of Chambons-Mentoulles of Cluson Valley, Italy and Lyon, France.

* * * * * * * * * *

Waldensian children were not spared

Waldensian children were not spared – Piedmont

Groups of “heretics” began surfacing all over 12th and 13th century Europe as the Vatican and Pope Lucias III persecuted such dissension more and more.  Many groups, including my ancestors, went into hiding or fled.  My ancestors eluded numerous arrests and escaped massacre after massacre.  During the late 1400’s several groups were fleeing into parts of Switzerland, and Germany, then Prussia the eventual birthplace of the Protestant Reformation.  By 1532 because of many doctrinal similarities the Waldensians officially joined the European Reformation inside congregations of Presbyterian and Calvinist churches.  The Bonnet clan (pronounced Bonné) and others found refuge in the Cluson Valley just outside of Turin.  They would soon be tracked down there.

The Catholic Duke of Savoy located the Waldensians (also known as the Vaudois) in the Piedmont region of Italy in April 1655.  This is known as the Piedmont Easter Massacre.  The English poet John Milton pinned a sonnet about the slaughter:

“Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints, whose bones
Lie scattered on the Alpine mountains cold,
Even them who kept thy truth so pure of old,
When all our fathers worshiped stocks and stones;

Forget not: in thy book record their groans
Who were thy sheep and in their ancient fold
Slain by the bloody Piedmontese that rolled
Mother with infant down the rocks. Their moans

The vales redoubled to the hills, and they
To Heaven. Their martyred blood and ashes sow
O’er all th’ Italian fields where still doth sway

The triple tyrant; that from these may grow
A hundredfold, who having learnt thy way
Early may fly the Babylonian woe.”

Elisabeth Charlotte

Elisabeth Charlotte

The Bonnet clan once again escaped…miraculously.  By 1699 persecutions and inquisitions by the Papacy and King Louis XIV forced my ancestors into hiding and fleeing again.  They settled their families in Charlottenberg, Germany outside of Koblenz.  There were 91 families remaining of Waldensians and Huguenot refugees from Italy, all welcomed by the Countess Elisabeth Charlotte Melander von Holzapfel-Schaumburg of Prussia (whew, say that 3-times fast!).  The hills and castles still exist there today as the town of Holzappel, Germany.

The late 17th century found many agricultural and economic hardships, even for The Poor of Lyons who graciously chose a modest frugal life focusing on others.  During the decades of 1830 to 1840, many Waldensians and Prussians had heard about and read about the ease of acquiring land deeds in a place called The Republic of Texas across the Atlantic Ocean.  The government there was ambitiously seeking Europeans of non-Spanish origin to come settle throughout central Texas.  Texas was near bankruptcy after fighting Mexico for independence and desperately sought to grow and stimulate their economy.  Johann Holzapfel from Charlottenberg had already started the immigration from Prussia, to Antwerp, Belgium, and on to Galveston, Texas in 1844.  My direct ancestor Philipp Daniel Bonnet (sometimes spelled Phillip) arrived at the port of Indianola, Texas in 1845 just months before the Republic was annexed into the United States.

Grave_Philipp Daniel BonnetMuch of the settlements of central Texas are of European heritage, particularly German.  The group of Prussians my family followed were the ones who founded New Braunfels, Texas.  Two generations later my great, great, great, great, great (five greats) grandfather Henry Daniel Bonnet moved to Austin, Texas and helped construct our state capitol building; little to no work could be found as New Braunfels and the surrounding towns had become over-populated with European immigrants seeking employment, land, and religious freedom.  My mother’s ancestors and family still populate several towns around Austin, including inside its city-limits.

* * * * * * * * * *

During the flow of immigration into 19th century Texas, my paternal ancestors arrived as well.  Not as much (or as detailed) is known about my father’s ancestors.  Perhaps they were not as fortunate inside the kill-infested parts of Catholic Europe.  However, and to my good fortune obviously, the few migrated to, settled and stayed near Galveston.  My paternal grandfather and grandmother are also of German-French heritage:  Miller (Mueller), Konzack, both German on his side, and Tacquard (French) on her side.  This side of my family is understandably much more distrustful of large organized religious institutions.

I remember my paternal grandfather had a strong independent personality.  He was one of few sons that had graduated from the University of Houston working most of his adult life at a chemical refinery.  Not surprisingly my father was agnostic.  His mother, my grandmother, I remember had a most kind gentle demeanor with a little pizzazz that shined on the dance floor.  She was an intermediate school teacher her entire life.  Both naturally loved family life and had unbelievable work ethics; they had to coming from and living through two world wars.

The most precious memories I have of my childhood and adolescence was the never-ending fun me and my cousins would have during family barbecues,  beer drinking (by adults of course! Well…), music and dancing on top of the saw-dusted pavilion or barn floor.  It was no surprise to me either, that in my same spiritual journey, why or how my two families found each other and became attracted.  The historical and genetic record fits nicely onto a most intriguing suspenseful family tree of how I came to be.

Magnolia bloom

Magnolia bloom

I was born into the best two families – deeply bound in an intimate, intense, painful, passionate yet supportive SURVIVING two families – a person could ever wish for.  It makes perfect sense why I have such deep Bohemian Free-thinking humanist-caring tendencies!  And I thank God…no, correction…the family tree that I come from such an incredible history!  I can picture my paternal grandmother teaching my father “We will teach you how to think, and not what to think” and my father passing down the same principle to me.  Decades later my mother, working at Southwestern Bell Telephone in Austin, meets my father on a blind date, he a part-time engineering student at the University of Texas in Austin and putting himself through college while working for an electrical company.  No surprise, there was a familiar (or familial) chemistry.  About four years later cupid’s arrow found its mark and at the risk of stating the obvious…so did my Dad!

One of my dad’s favorite trees was the evergreen magnolia tree, especially when it bloomed.  The flowers have a distinct smell, like fresh sweet lemonade.  He, myself and my sister planted one in the front yard.  When I last drove by the home of my youth, it had grown to some 40-50 feet into the sky.  I could only imagine how the neighborhood smelled when it bloomed.

As the past weekend of resurrection stories and folklore prevailed, my larger perspective was much more personal, much more caring in small ways, like a close family who, to understate, has learned in so many ways over so many generations the real-life meaning of Easter.

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Live Laugh Love

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18 thoughts on “My Heretical Heritage

  1. Thoroughly enjoyed this!! Like, most definitely attracts like.
    I had wondered most of my life, “why” I’ve always had authourity issues…
    it’s cellular.

    Eloquently written. Oh, and that sweet scented Magnolia, with glorious blooms! Delicious.


    • Vix, it is indeed as much cellular-genetic as it is familial and nurturing; Waldensian nurturing in my case, sometimes as a matter of life or death; which explains my passion and natural desire to always humbly examine everything.

      So glad you enjoyed this.


      • After a divorce, and demotion to part-time father as a result of state family laws, my therapist of 2-years once stated to me (responding to a long history of relationships and the ending of our marriage) she concluded I was the ultimate survivor. Hah! Surprise, surprise, right?

        Yes, humility; because I too am a part of this global imperfect family.

        By the way, did you notice my “Music” song for April 2013? 😉


  2. What a rich heritage your have. Back in the late 80’s I learned a good bit about the Waldensians during my religious studies. I’m sure you are aware of this but there is a Waldensian Heritage Museum pretty close to where I live (about an hour and 1/2 away) nestled in the foothills of North Carolina.

    “One of my dad’s favorite trees was the evergreen magnolia tree, especially when it bloomed. When I last drove by the home of my youth, it had grown to some 40-50 feet into the sky. I could only imagine how the neighborhood smelled when it bloomed.”

    This is special. My sister and BIL have been living in their current home for over 14 years now. Their 2nd son was just 3 at the time they moved in. They planted a small evergreen magnolia in the backyard that year to signify new beginnings.

    It has grown tall and stately, and will forever serve as a reminder, to this family of 4, of the bond they have. They are very close-knit. There is a porch like swing and some lawn chairs under the tree over-looking the lake. Although they have a rather large deck, it is under that tree where family often gathers.

    Great post, thank you for sharing a part of ‘you’.


    • And thank you Victoria for reading my “Family Story” and heritage. What a GREAT tradition your sister’s family and yours I assume(?) have under that magnolia tree with swing. My families, especially my Dad’s side, have those type traditions. My Uncle — my late father’s closest brother & next in line — has a 2-story old barn packed with all sorts of Texas antiques on the bottom floor, but on the upper floor are lots of various colored lights strung through the rafters and with both ‘hay doors’ open at both ends, a wonderful breeze blows through. We’d all dance up there at night to all kinds of two-stepping, waltzing, polkas, schottisches, cotton-eyed joes, et al…either to a little string-band with 1 or 2 horns, or the stereo pumping out the music. This would go on until 1, 2, maybe 3 a.m. in the morning! 🙂


  3. Oh, btw, I plan on reading the other links I asked you to share with me, but my post was FP’d today, so I’ve been a wee bit busy returning replies. I look forward to reading what else that awesome stew of neurons you possess have to share.

    I’m going to need a glass of wine (or two) after this. Right now, I’m on a natural high. I love this place.


  4. I am amazed At all the history you have about your family. I only recently have learned about my family’s deep connection to Oak Cliff, being related to the Ledbetters of Dallas. You speak of familial tendencies and that made me smile. I have worked as a paralegal for many years and have discovered that my family comes from a legal background, with cousins who were also paralegals and, a great, great uncle who was the 42nd president of the Dallas Bar Association. Doesn’t it just boggle the mind to learn of the way the branches of the family tree have a way of crisscrossing to share traits? Thank you for sharing your history. It really was a treat to read of someone who has such deep roots!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Pingback: Legacy | Professor Taboo

  6. This is a side of European history I know little about. I actually didn’t know that any of the Waldensians survived the massacres of the Dark Ages, and here all this time I’ve been reading a blog written by one.🙂

    Milton’s sonnet reminded me of something tied to an earlier allegiance of my own. It took some time, but the victims of Piedmont and all the countless others persecuted by the Catholic Church have been avenged. The Church in places like France and Italy still exists, but it’s shrunk into near-irrelevance, mired in endless scandals, and still hemorrhaging members. For the pompous and self-important, humiliation may be the best punishment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha… well, I’m a long-removed descendant of Waldensians, but obviously do not subscribed to their theological tenets. I know you realized that. 🙂

      The Church in places like France and Italy still exists, but it’s shrunk into near-irrelevance, mired in endless scandals, and still hemorrhaging members. For the pompous and self-important, humiliation may be the best punishment.

      Couldn’t agree more. And to add to that payback, I delight in the very real fact that the Roman Catholic Church is the direct ancestor of ALL modern Christianity and shamefully the bastard impersonator of Second Temple Judaism/Messianism which is NOTHING the later Greco-Roman Pauline Christology/Apotheosis became as the Roman Catholic Church! The contaminated, corrupt, lying, bogus blood-line IS paying for its pompous arrogance now, deservedly so. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

    • Well well Ashlynn! Hello, hello… 3rd, 4th, or 5th cousin! 😄 So happy you found the “Felix Bonnet” branch of this massive Bonnet tree! BWAAA! Not sure what branch Philip Bonnet is exactly, BUT… we’re in the same pasture and tree! WOOT WOOT! 🎉


    • Also, apologies for my extended delay in replying! My Mom, Esther Bonnet-Miller-Strange, is almost 83-yrs old now with severe Stage 6 Dementia—I am currently her full-time (18-7 or 24-7) Caretaker, ugh. 😏 So my free-time and WordPress blogging has diminished greatly the last 15-months.


      • I am happy as well! I’ve been very interested in our family history! And Hello!! 😇 and no worries at all!! My father Keith Bonnet is taking care my grandmother Kay Bonnet as well. She is 86 with dementia!


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