Biography and family record of Lorenzo Snow/Chapter XX


Writes to President Young.—The Waldenses.—Incidents.—Calls Elder Stenhouse.—Cathedral of St. Lorenzo.—Sends two Elders to Piedmont.—Describes the Country.—Published "The Voice of Joseph."—Miraculous healing.—Sends for Elder Woodard.—Organization of the Church.—Prayer.—Officers chosen.—Mount Brigham.—Rock of Prophecy.—Testimony of an Englishman.—Invited by a Priest.—First Baptism.—Difficulties to meet.—LaTour.—The presence of the Elders only tolerated.—Can lift up his head and rejoice in spite of difficulties.

IN the following letter to President Young, Lorenzo gives a detailed account of the introduction of the Gospel into the valleys of Piedinont; and an eloquent and inspiring description of the time, place and circumstances of the organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in that land of religious superstition and bigotry:

                              LaTour, Valley de Luzerne,
                                          Piedmont, Italy, Nov. 1, 1850.

Dear President Young:

When I arrived in Liverpool, I sent you a letter, in connection with Brothers Erastus and Franklin, which I hope you duly received. Soon afterwards, as I contemplated the condition of Italy, with deep solicitude[1] to know the mind of the Spirit as to where I should commence my labors, I found that all was dark in Sicily, and hostile laws would exclude our efforts. No opening appeared in the cities of Italy; but the history of the Waldenses attracted my attention.

Amid the ages of darkness and cruelty, they had stood immovable almost as the wave beaten rock in the stormy ocean. When the anathemas of Rome shook the world and princes fell from their thrones, they dared to brave the mandate of the Pope and the armies of the mighty. To my mind they appeared like the rose in the wilderness, or the bow in the cloud. The night of time has overspread their origin; but these dissenters from Rome existed ages before Luther was born. During the fierce persecutions to which they have been subjected, their limits have greatly decreased.

A few narrow valleys, which in some places are only a bow's shot in breadth, are all that now remain in their possession except the mountains by which they are engirdled. But a period of deep calm has at length arrived, and, since the storm of persecution swept over Europe, they have received many privileges from the Sardinian government. Thus the way was opened only a short period before the appointment of this mission, and no other portion of Italy is governed by such favorable laws.

A flood of light seemed to burst upon my mind when I thought upon the subject, and I endeavored to procure some information in relation to this people. The librarian to whom I applied informed me he had a work of the description I required; but it had just been taken. He had scarcely finished the sentence, when a lady entered with the book. "O," said he, "this is a remarkable circumstance, this gentleman has just called for that book." I was soon convinced that this people were worthy to receive the first proclamation of the Gospel in Italy.

I made a short sojourn in England, and visited several conferences. Going to London, after so many years' absence, was a circumstance of uncommon interest. The happiness I experienced during two weeks' stay was no small compensation for the anxieties and difficulties I had endured in carrying on the work of the Lord there for two years immediately after its foundation had been laid by yourself, Elders Kimball, Woodruff and G. A. Smith.

When I received an appointment to that city, I found thirty or forty members; now I find three thousand, although many have emigrated.

Here I became acquainted with Elder Stenhouse, President of the Southampton Conference. After consultation with Brother Franklin, I felt that it was the mind of the Spirit that he should accompany me on this mission. I therefore returned with him to Southampton. During his preparation for departure, we went to Portsmouth, and, among "the forces of the Gentiles," we visited the Victory, the vessel in which Lord Nelson met his death. "We were very politely shown the varied departments of this mammoth of the deep, the spot where Nelson fell, and the cabin where he expired.

The hour at length arrived for leaving the last home of the Saints. In the parting of Elder Stenhouse with his wife and friends, I was forcibly reminded of my own experience. As we withdrew from this parting scene, I observed, "Did the people of Italy but know the heart-rending sacrifices we have made for their sakes, they could have no heart to persecute.' On the fifteenth of June we left Southampton by the steamboat Wonder, for Havre de Grace[2], and then proceeded immediately to Paris. After having our passports countersigned, we continued our journey through the beautiful country of southern France. We passed through Lyons, and arrived in Marseilles in about four days from Paris. We then embarked on the clear blue waters of the Mediterranean for Antibes, the last French port. By disembarking there we escaped being detained six days in quarantine, under the burning sun of Genoa. We then traveled to Nice, the first town in Italy. Here Catholicism began to show itself more prominently—priests were very numerous. Images of the Holy Virgin, with the infant Jesus in her arms, were to be seen on the corner-house of every street and on the front of many others.

We left Nice by diligence, and traveled by the shores of the Mediterranean. It was the feast-day of John the Baptist; labor was entirely suspended, and all seemed to enjoy themselves in honor of that great man. We certainly saw some hundreds of priests—rather a gloomy introduction.

On the twenty-fifth of June we arrived at Genoa. Here we called upon the Lord, and offered the praise and gratitude of our souls for His providence. We had accomplished this journey of nearly twelve hundred miles much quicker than we had anticipated. From the time we left England we had only spent three nights in bed.

June 27th. This is the feast-day to St. Peter. Again all work is suspended, and the people enjoying themselves. Jesus said, the fathers killed the Prophets, and their children build their tombs and garnish their sepulchres. The fathers beheaded John and crucified Peter; this week we have witnessed feastings and rejoicings in honor of their names. Pleasing reflections—starvation!bonds!imprisonment!martyrdom!—and subsequent generations paying us divine honors.

I visited the Cathedral of St. Lorenzo, and beheld the most superb and richly decorated interior of any building I had ever seen. As we entered, our attention was immediately attracted by the grand altar. It was a display of richly cut candlesticks and vases, glittering with gold and silver gilding. In the former were candles four or five feet long, and in the latter a most delightful association of flowers. On each side of this building were six recesses, where were placed small altars, upon which stood a cross, with an emblem of Jesus, surrounded with candles and flowers on a small scale. Before them were seats for the accommodation of the devout. The side wall of each recess had a painting, representing, in full size, some particular personage in the act of devotion. These worshipers were portrayed, in some instances, as holding a levee with "Holy Mary, Mother of God," who was well surrounded with young warbling angels, which had been assisted in their descent with eagle's wings! Others were represented with volumes of smoke around them, thickly studded with young cherubs, which were blowing profusely upon the worshiper, while they were loaded with garlands to encircle his brow. Two beautifully cut and spiraled pillars of choice stone, stood at the extent of each recess, supporting an arched roof, which was also richly painted. Between every two pillars was placed the statue of one of the ancient Apostles. The design and execution of these monuments of departed worth elicited our admiration.

The roof of the building was completely covered with paintings, representing the prominent circumstances recorded in the New Testament. Each picture was surrounded with massive gilt mouldings. On the dome over the grand altar was a representation of the day of Pentecost. The Holy Ghost, in its plenitude of power, was portrayed in the descent of the dove, while tongues of fire, in glowing colors, rested upon the disciples.

Two rows of large massive pillars, from one end of the church to the other, stood erect from floor to roof; each side of which was filled with seats for the congregation, while the center was left for visitors and those approaching the altar. Here we sat, and while the unmeaning sounds of the preacher fell upon our ears, our minds were absorbed in contemplation of the beauty and richness of art the power of unity, and the darkness of human understanding, as the monuments of each were around, before and above us.

On the first of July, Elders Stenhouse and Toronto left Genoa, according to my appointment, to visit the Protestant valleys of Piedmont. On the twenty third of the same month I left Genoa, passing through the city of Turin, the capital of the Sardinian States, and arrived at LaTour, in the valley of Luzerne.

This country bears a striking resemblance to the valley of the Great Salt Lake. Piedmont is situated at the foot of the Alps, the highest mountains in Europe. The scenes of this land embrace all the varieties of a region where the heavens and the earth seem to meet. The clouds often enwrap these mighty eminences, and hide their frowning grandeurs from our view. At other times they are covered with snow, while at their feet the vine and fig tree are ripening their fruit. A poet has said of this identical locality in which we are placed:

                        "There is a scene would well repay
                        The toil of many a weary day,
                        And every form of nature there—
                        Wood, rock and stream, and sunset rare—
                        All seem to bid the traveler rest;
                        For ne'er from tower or mountain crest,
                        In emerald vale or sunny plain,
                        Shall he behold such scenes again."

The Protestant inhabitants are called Vaudois or Waldenses. They number about twenty-one thousand; there aro also about five thousand Catholics. The fertile portions of these valleys are rich in their productions; but two-thirds or more present nothing but precipices, ravines and rocky districts, or such as have a northern 'aspect. The inhabitants are far too numerous for the nature and products of the soil. They are often compelled to carry mould on their backs to form gardens amid the barren rocks.

The French language is generally understood, but in many parts it is spoken very imperfectly, and with a mixture of provincialism and Italian. The latter is understood by a considerable number, but it is not extensively used. In fact, this is where, at least, five distinct dialects are spoken by different classes.

During our protracted journey, the health of Brother Toronto had been considerably impaired, but the invigorating effect of this salubrious clime so restored him, that he became very anxious to visit his relatives in Sicily. As I felt it proper for him to do so, he took his departure at the beginning of August.

Soon after my arrival here, I considered it necessary to issue a publication in French; accordingly I wrote and compiled a work, entitled, "The Voice of Joseph," containing Visions of Joseph Smith; discovery of the gold plates filled with Egyptian characters and hieroglyphics; their translation into the English language by the aid of the Urim and Thummim; the sacred history of ancient America, now clearly revealed from the earliest ages after the flood to the beginning of the fifth century of the Christian era; organization of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; their persecutions; expulsion from the States of Missouri and Illinois; martyrdom of Joseph and Hyrum Smith; banishment of many thousand Saints; their travels in the western wilderness; their present location in Upper California; their organization of the "State of Deseret;" the missionary labDrs of their Elders; sketch of their faith and doctrine.

After fruitless endeavors to find a proper person to translate this work, I found it necessary to send to England, where, through the kindness of Elder Orson Pratt, it was translated by a professor from the University of Paris.

I felt assured that the Lord had directed us to a branch, of the house of Israel, and I was rejoiced to behold many circumstances that reminded me of those with whom I had been associated in the valleys of the west. We endeavored to lay a foundation for future usefulness in silently preparing the minds of the people for the reception of the Gospel, by cultivating friendly feelings in the bosoms of those by whom we were surrounded. Yet it seemed very singular, and it was no small tax on my patience, to be weeks and even months in the midst of an interesting people without being actively and publicly engaged in communicating the great principles which I had been sent to promulgate. But, as I felt it was the mind of the Spirit that we should proceed at first with slow and cautious steps, I submitted to the will of heaven.

September 6th.—This morning, my attention was directed to Joseph Grey, a boy of three years of age—the youngest child of our host. Many friends had been to see the child, as to all human appearances his end was near. I went to see him in the afternoon; death was preying upon his body—his former healthy frame was now reduced to a skeleton, and it was only by close observation we could discern that he was alive. As I reflected upon the peculiarity of our situation, my mind was fully awakened to a sense of our position. For some hours before I retired to rest, I called upon the Lord to assist us at this time. My feelings on this occasion will not easily be erased from my memory.

September 7th.—This morning I proposed to Elder Stenhouse we should fast and retire to the mountains and pray. As we departed, we called and saw the child—his eyeballs turned upwards—his eyelids fell and closed—his face and ears were thin, and wore the pale marble hue, indicative of approaching dissolution. The cold perspiration of death covered his body as the principle of life was nearly exhausted. Madam Grey and other females were sobbing, while Monsieur Grey hung his head and whispered to us, "Il meurt! il meurtt!" (He dies! he dies!)

After a little rest upon the mountain, aside from any likelihood of interruption, we called upon the Lord in solemn, earnest prayer, to spare the life of the child. As I reflected on the course we wished to pursue, the claims that we should soon advance to the world, I regarded this circumstance as one of vast importance. I know not of any sacrifice which I can possibly make, that I am not willing to offer, that the Lord might grant our requests.

We returned about three o'clock in the afternoon, and having consecrated some oil, I anointed my hand and laid it upon the head of the child, while we silently offered up the desires of our hearts for his restoration. A few hours afterward we called, and his father, with a smile of thankfulness, said, "Mieux beaucoup! beaucoup!" (Better, much, much!)

September 8th.—The child had been so well during the past night the parents had been enabled to take their rest, which they had not done for some time before; and to-day they could leave him and attend to the business of the house. As I called to see him, Madam Grey expressed her joy in his restoration. I, in turn, remarked, "Il Dio di cielo ha fatto questa per voi." (The God of heaven has done this for you.)

Finding circumstances favorable as could be expected, I considered it wisdom to send for Elder Jabez Woodard, of London, with whom I had formed an acquaintance while in that city. By exertions of Elder Margetts, President of the London Conference, and the liberality of the Saints, he was enabled to join us on the eighteenth of September. The following day, being eleven months from the time the foreign mission left the city of the Great Salt Lake, I proposed we should commence our public duties.

It was well known that we had come to establish a church. This was looked upon by many as an impossibility. But we now found we had the materials marvelously assembled from four different nations, viz: England, Scotland, Italy, and America. With one member from each of these countries, we proceeded to organize the Church. We ascended a very high mountain, a little distance from LaTour, and having taken our position on a bold projecting rock, we sang praises to the God of heaven, and offered up the following prayer:

We, Thy servants, Holy Father, come before Thee upon this mountain, and ask Thee to look upon us in an especial manner, and regard our petitions as one friend regards the peculiar requests of another. Forgive all our sins and transgressions, and let them no more be remembered.

Look, Lord, upon our many sacrifices in leaving our wives, our children, and country, to obey Thy voice in offering salvation to this people. Receive our gratitude in having preserved us from destruction amid the cold wintry blasts, and from the hostile savages of the deserts of America—in having led us by the Holy Ghost to these valleys of Piedmont. Thou hast shown us that here Thou hast hid up a portion of the house of Israel.

In Thy name, we this day lift into view before this people and this nation the ensign of Thy martyred Prophet and Patriarch, Joseph and Hyrum Smith, the ensign of the fulness of the Gospel—the ensign of Thy kingdom once more to be established among men. O Lord, God of our fathers, protect Thou this banner. Lend us Thine almighty aid in maintaining it before the view of these dark and benighted nations. May it wave triumphantly from this time forth, till all Israel shall have heard and received the fulness of Thy Gospel, and have been delivered from their bondage. May their bands be broken and the scales of darkness fall from their eyes.

From the lifting up of this ensign may a voice go forth among the people of these mountains and valleys, and throughout the length and breadth of this land, and may it go forth and be unto thine elect, as the voice of the Lord, that the Holy Spirit may fall upon them, imparting knowledge in dreams and visions concerning this hour of their redemption. As the report of us, Thy servants, shall spread abroad, may it awaken feelings of anxiety with the honest to learn of Thy doings, and to seek speedily the path of knowledge.

Whomsoever among this people shall employ his influence, riches or learning to promote the establishment of Thy Gospel in these nations, may he be crowned with honors in this world, and in the world to come crowned with eternal life. Whomsoever shall use his influence or power to hinder the establishment of Thy Gospel in this country, may he become, in a surprising manner, before the eyes of all these nations, a monument of weakness, folly, shame and disgrace.

Suffer us not to be overcome by our enemies in the accomplishment of this mission, upon which we have been sent. Let messengers be prepared and sent forth from heaven to help us in our weakness, and to take the oversight of this work, and lead it to a glorious consummation.

Remember our families. Preserve our lives and hearts from all evil, that when we shall have finished our missions we may return safely to the bosom of our families. Bless Elder Toronto in Sicily, and give him influence and power to lead to salvation many of his father's house and kindred. Bless President Young and his council, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and Thy Saints universally: And to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, shall be the praise, honor, and glory, now and forever, amen.

Other proceedings of the day I extract from the journal of the mission:

Moved by Elder Snow, that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints be organized in Italy; seconded and carried.

Moved by Elder Stenhouse, that Elder Lorenzo Snow, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, be sustained President of the Church in Italy; seconded and carried.

Moved by Elder Snow, that Elder Stenhouse be Secretary of the Church in Italy; seconded and carried.

The Church in this country, this day, is composed of the following: Lorenzo Snow, of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles; Joseph Toronto, of the Quorum of Seventies; T. B. H. Stenhouse, Elder, and Jabez Woodard, Elder.

We then sang, "Praise to the man who communed with Jehovah;" after which, Elder Stenhouse engaged in prayer, calling upon the Lord to bless and preserve our wives and families, and all who administer to their wants during our absence.

Elder Woodard then implored the outpouring of the Spirit of God upon the honest in heart among the ministers and people of these lands.

Elder Snow followed, calling upon the God of our fathers, in mighty prayer, to bless and sanction the proceedings of this day, and crown our future efforts with success.

As the Spirit of God rested upon us, we "felt it was good to be here."[3] After singing a song of Zion, Elder Snow prophesied arid said, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, now organized, will increase and multiply, and continue its existence in Italy, till that portion of Israel, dwelling in these countries, shall have heard and received the fulness of the Gospel.

Elder Stenhouse prophesied and said, From, this time the work will commence, and nothing will hinder its progress; and before we are called to return, many will rejoice and bear testimony to the principles of Truth.

Elder Woodard prophesied and said, The opposition which may be brought against this Church will, in a visible and peculiar manner, advance its interests; and the work of God will at length go from this land, to other nations of the earth. After we had sung, prayed and prophesied, Elder Snow laid his hands upon the head of Elder Stenhouse, and, through the operations of the Spirit, was led to comfort and cheer his soul with the things of the Kingdom. He then laid his hands upon the head of Elder Woodard, and prayed that he might have the power to act as Aaron, and speak unto the people by the power of God.

Having now finished the business for which we assembled, we felt reluctant to leave the spot where we had rejoiced so much in the goodness of the Lord. From the nature of our proceedings, the fruitfulness of the mountains, the rich variety around, and the impregnable fortress of the mountains behind, Elder Snow proposed that this mountain be known among the people of God, henceforth and forever, as Mount Brigham, and the rock upon which we stood the Rock of Prophecy.

We descended the mount and reached LaTour about six o'clock in the evening. As a sign to all who might visit us, we nailed to the wall of my chamber the likeness of Joseph and Hyrum Smith. From that day opportunities began to occur for proclaiming our message.

There is an English gentleman, a retired English colonel, residing here, whose name has an almost magical effect upon the Protestants. He has materially assisted the schools and other benevolent institutions. Your recommend as Governor of Utah procured me a ready and cheerful introduction which resulted in several interesting interviews. On one of those occasions he said, as he retired, "You shall receive no opposition on my part; and if you preach the Gospel as faithfully to all in these valleys as to me, you need fear no reproach in the day of judgment."

The Protestant chapels here are called temples. The first that was ever erected was that of St. Lorenzo. It has long since crumbled into ruins; but a Catholic chapel has been erected, which now bears the name. One day we were invited to the residence of the officiating priest. We received every attention from our host, and were furnished a dinner which exceeded anything we had enjoyed in Italy. When viewing his chapel, we took the opportunity of presenting the truth of the Gospel. He listened with great attention and proposed many interesting questions in relation to modern revelation. Although we had intended to return to our residence, he insisted so urgently that we consented to stay over night. He presented me an Italian grammar, in which he inscribed his name. In the morning, after an early breakfast, he accompanied us some miles on our way.

It is customary among Protestants to hold small meetings for religious worship in private houses. These are called "re-unions." We attend them, and sometimes are permitted to speak upon our principles. This has produced some little stir among the officials; and a short time since we received an invitation to attend a public meeting and answer some questions relative to our mission. We did so, and found some of the most talented ministers present, with an evident desire to crush our efforts. But after we had preached and discussed for three hours, one man, at least, retired with the conviction that we were the servants of the Lord. On the 27th of October, this person presented himself as a candidate for baptism.

The introduction of the principles of truth in all countries has more or less been attended with anxiety and difficulty; of these we had our share. It was with no small degree of satisfaction I went down to the river side to attend to this ordinance. Peculiar, indeed, were my feelings when I thought on the past, the present, and endeavored to penetrate the dark labyrinth of unborn time. I rejoiced that the Lord had thus far blessed our efforts and enabled us to open the door of the Kingdom in dark and benighted Italy. My brethren stood on the river bank—the only human witnesses of this interesting scene. Having long desired this eventful time, sweet to us all were the soft sounds of the Italian as I administered and opened a door which no man can shut.

Tales of slander against the Saints have been circulated around us already. The list of lies which we have seen in print here, might bleach the memory of many a vile traducer in other lands. From the rise of the Church to the death of Joseph, all the principal facts have been changed for the foulest misrepresentations. But this is a small part of our difficulties. We have to preach on the one hand to a people nominally Protestants, but who have been, from time immemorial, in a church where organized dissent has been unknown. The people regard any innovation as an attempt to drag them from the banner of their martyred ancestry. On the other hand, we have the Catholics, with their proud pretensions to a priesthood of apostolic origin.

Our presence in this land is only just tolerated and not recognized as any right, founded upon established laws. Liberty is only as yet in the bud; and the poet says, "The bud may have a bitter taste."[4] But while surrounded with difficulties that seem loftier than the snow-crowned Alps, I can lift up my head as a servant of God, and rejoice in the anticipation of final triumph. Our course is often dark and difficult; but I believe that, however slow it may be for a while, it will ultimately brighten with complete success. Popery, ignorance, and superstition form a three-fold barrier to our efforts. Strange customs, laws and languages surround us on every side. In a word, we feel that we are in Italy—the polluted fountain which has overspread the earth with her defiling waters.

LaTour is the principal town in the Protestant valleys. Here is a large Catholic chapel with a number of officiating priests. There is a Protestant college, with several professors, and about seventy students. They have also a large chapel in course of erection, principally by English liberality.

Having thus given you a sketch of my travels and proceedings, I close with my kind love to yourself and family, Elders Kimball and Richards, and all the Saints.

I am, dear President Young, yours very affectionately,

                                                 Lorenzo Snow.

President Brigham Young,
          Great Salt Lake City, California.

  1. Original text appears to say 'tolicitude', which could be a typographical error or an irregular spelling.
  2. Le Havre or Le Havre de Grâce
  3. Matthew 17:4
  4. Cowper, William. Olney Hymns, "Light Shining out of Darkness".