The Lion Of Rora (From the archives)

A bit of history:

Through the ages, there has rarely been a time where the saints of God were persecuted as terribly as in the mid-1600s. The reformation was sweeping through Europe and the true vine was trying to break free of the strangling grip of papal rule. The Catholic Church turned the full fury on all that dared to resist them. But in the face of such terror and death, God still had heroes!

One of those heroes was Joshua Gianavel (Janavel) (1617-1690) who lived much of his early adulthood as a prosperous farmer in the Rora region of northwest Italy, bordering France and Switzerland.

At the age of 38, Gianavel took up arms to resist the Duke of Savoy’s (Charles Emanuel II) military operations which had been launched against the region of Pianessa with one purpose: eradicate Protestantism in its entirety. Merciless inquisitors laid siege to small towns and villages, burning their churches and killing all who refused to renounce their faith.

For the next 35 years, above the land that forms the border between Italy and France, the “Lion of Rora,” would stand against all tyranny that was the papacy. Gianavel would lead resistance efforts to counter advances from the various Dukes of the Savoy region. This was often done by leading groups of men into battle, almost always outnumbered and against overwhelming odds, and against Europe’s mightiest army. Even later in life when age and battle scars had caught up with him, the “captain of the valleys,” played a prominent role as an organizer, drafting orders, much like a field general, to govern the bands of men that had formed to duel against the Roman Catholics.

The excerpt below from Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, tells of how this 17th-century hero kept his testimony, even when facing the threat of death to those dearest to him. The setting is in northwest Italy, in the mid-1650s, during the Sardisian Church Age. Gianavel had just refused the Marquis’ offer to join the Roman Catholic movement.

You shall have your request, for the troops sent against you have strict injunctions to plunder, burn, and kill. - PIANESSA

The three armies were then put in motion, and the attacks ordered to be made thus: the first by the rocks of Vilario; the second by the pass of Bagnol; and the third by the defile of Lucerne.

The troops forced their way by the superiority of numbers, and having gained the rocks, pass, and defile, began to make the most horrid depradations, and exercise the greatest cruelties. (Foxe goes into graphic detail of the killings) One hundred and twenty-six suffered in this manner on the first day of their gaining the town.

Agreeable to the marquis of Pianessa's orders, they likewise plundered the estates, and burned the houses of the people. Several Protestants, however, made their escape, under the conduct of Captain Gianavel, whose wife and children were unfortunately made prisoners and sent under a strong guard to Turin.

The marquis of Pianessa wrote a letter to Captain Gianavel, and released a Protestant prisoner that he might carry it (to) him. The contents were, that if the captain would embrace the Roman Catholic religion, he should be indemnified for all his losses since the commencement of the war; his wife and children should be immediately released, and himself honorably promoted in the duke of Savoy's army; but if he refused to accede to the proposals made him, his wife and children should be put to death; and so large a reward should be given to take him, dead or alive, that even some of his own confidential friends should be tempted to betray him, from the greatness of the sum.

To this epistle, the brave Gianavel sent the following answer.

My Lord Marquis,

There is no torment so great or death so cruel, but what I would prefer to the abjuration of my religion: so that promises lose their effects, and menaces only strengthen me in my faith.

With respect to my wife and children, my lord, nothing can be more afflicting to me than the thought of their confinement, or more dreadful to my imagination, than their suffering a violent and cruel death. I keenly feel all the tender sensations of husband and parent; my heart is replete with every sentiment of humanity; I would suffer any torment to rescue them from danger; I would die to preserve them.

But having said thus much, my lord, I assure you that the purchase of their lives must not be the price of my salvation. You have them in your power it is true; but my consolation is that your power is only a temporary authority over their bodies: you may destroy the mortal part, but their immortal souls are out of your reach, and will live hereafter to bear testimony against you for your cruelties. I therefore recommend them and myself to God, and pray for a reformation in your heart.


The following morning, Angela Gianavel and their three daughters were burned alive in Turin, Italy. It did not have the demoralizing effect Pianessa and the Inquisitors had hoped.

This brave Protestant officer, after writing the above letter, retired to the Alps, with his followers; and being joined by a great number of other fugitive Protestants, he harassed the enemy by continual skirmishes.

The army Gianavel fought against was fierce, but still God’s heroes face a bigger threat today and mightier battle. The devil is going about like a roaring lion because he knows he is at his end. Though we might not take up arms physically as Gianavel did, it’s a good lesson that we can stand with the Sword of the Word, the helmet of salvation, and breastplate of righteousness to be one of God’s heroes today.

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