Vincenzo Paravicino and the Valtellina Massacre

Vincenzo Paravicino was one of the many Italians who lived in today’s Swiss Canton of Grisons

“Paravicino’s family had been divided for some time. It was predominantly Protestant, but two of its members had moved to the Roman Catholic camp, leading the opposition. Fifty-five of his relatives arrived in Zurich, while sixteen died during the attacks or while they tried to flee.”

 

Vincenzo Paravicino was one of the many Italians who lived in today’s Swiss Canton of Grisons. He was born in 1595 in Traona, in a scenic valley on the Italian side of the Alps, known as Valtellina. After completing his basic studies at Zurich’s Collegium Carolinum, he moved to the University of Basil, then to the Geneva Academy. In 1619, he was ordained pastor at Zuoz, Switzerland.

His fairly ordinary life was interrupted the following year, when a mixture of papal troops, local rebels, and Spanish soldiers sent by the Spanish governor of Milan slaughtered hundreds of Protestants in the same area where he was born. The death toll included some of his relatives.

The Massacre

The district of Valtellina, together with neighboring Chiavenna and Bormio, had been a dependency of the Swiss Three Leagues since 1512. In 1526, Reformed worship was officially allowed in these lands, alongside with the Roman Catholic mass. With time, coexistence of the two religions became increasingly difficult. The Thirty Years War brought these conflicts to a head.

In the spring of 1620, a group of exiled Roman Catholic noblemen began to plot a revolt, backed by Jesuits, Capuchins, and the Spanish governor (who had an interest in opening a path from Milan to the Roman Catholic Augsburg lands along the eastern Alps).

Their plan was enacted on Sunday, July 19, 1620, after the troops had surrounded the area, blocking every way of escape. After taking over the town of Tirano by killing or putting to flight the Protestant leaders, the conspirators called the Roman Catholic population to arms. The weapons were taken from the local military arsenal. From there, the newly formed local army went after the Protestants who were still in the area, quickly moving to other neighboring towns.

In nearby Teglio, the soldiers waited outside the Protestant church in order to kill those who were inside. When the people refused to exit, they proceeded to shoot them through the windows and to set fire to the building. The slaughter continued for about two weeks, until all the Protestants in the valley were either killed or put to flight. A few Catholics who seemed favorable to the Protestants were murdered too. The total number of victims ranged from 400 to 600 people, including men, women, and children.

The Refugees

Hundreds of fugitives sought refuge in Switzerland, especially in Zurich, where about 250 people found temporary residence. Some traveled further, to Germany and Holland.

Paravicino’s family had been divided for some time. It was predominantly Protestant, but two of its members had moved to the Roman Catholic camp, leading the opposition. Fifty-five of his relatives arrived in Zurich, while sixteen died during the attacks or while they tried to flee.

It was not an ideal time for Zurich, that had recently been flooded with refugees first from from Locarno, Switzerland, and later from lands that had been conquered by the Austrians. The City Council agreed to host the Italian refugees for five years, then those who were healthy and strong had to leave.

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