To Be Caught Was To Die
This story is about Amanda, a young Waldensian girl living in one of the Piedmont valleys of northern Italy. Toward the end of the Middle Ages, as it had been for centuries, it was a death penalty to own or to read a Bible.
For hundreds of years, through ages of persecution, the Waldenses secretly had Bibles hidden. They read and memorized them, and secretly distributed them to those who could read throughout all of Europe. Many of the Waldenses were caught and martyred. At times, crusades [papal armies] were sent out to destroy all the Waldenses, but God always preserved a remnant. It was the seeds from their witness and from the Bibles they distributed that eventually helped to bring about a reformation and religious freedom throughout Europe.
As Amanda grew, her mother carefully instilled within her the treasures of the Bible that she herself had learned at her mother’s knee. When very young, she had already memorized large portions of Scripture. She was also drilled in the importance of secrecy and of the danger of owning such a Book. To be caught was to die, but to read it and obey it was to have eternal life.
One day, suddenly and unexpectedly, it happened. Father was gone, and Mother was kneading the bread dough, getting ready to put it into pans for the oven. Mother, as usual when no one was around, had her Bible open upon the table. This was a time when she often memorized. It was at that instant that Amanda heard hoof beats coming around the trail to their valley home at the foot of the mountains. They were almost upon them before she heard the sound. She just had time to peek out to see two soldiers jumping off their horses in front of the door!
"Mother!" she gasped, "Mother, they are soldiers!" That is all she needed to say. She knew they were caught, for the soldiers did not wait to knock; they simply kicked the door open and walked in, looking for the Book. To be caught was to die, and Amanda knew they were caught! The Bible was right there, and there had been no time to hide it!
"Where is the Book!" they demanded. "You have been reported as having a Bible. Turn it over to us now." Amanda was shocked. Surely they could see the Bible lying open right there upon the table. She looked at her mother, but the Bible was not there! Where was it? All she saw was Mother calmly putting the last pan of bread into the oven as though this was an every day occurrence, and she could not be bothered until her bread was safely baking.
Then turning around, Mother simply said, "I do not know who could have reported such a thing. You will not find a Bible in this house. You can search if you like."
"Why, Mother!" Amanda thought to herself, for she had been taught never to lie. Now, of course, if the soldiers could not find the Bible, her mother had not lied, but how could she be so sure they would not? How could her mother be so calm, Amanda wondered. How could Mother have hidden it so quickly? and where? She had not moved from where she had been standing while kneading the bread. It was a mystery too great for her to ponder.
One soldier kept a careful eye on Amanda and her mother, while the other began to ransack the house.
Amanda watched with amazement as he went from corner to corner, not missing a nook or cranny. He tested all the boards of the floor and the timber of the walls to see if there might be a secret hiding place. Obviously he had done this before.
He came to where Mother had been making her bread. Surely he would find it now! He opened the firebox to see if there were any remnants of a burnt book inside. Where could Mother have hidden it, and how could she maintain such calmness and composure? The soldier opened the cupboards and emptied them. He opened the oven door, but all that was there were loaves of bread baking.
"I told you that you would not find a Bible in this house," Mother reminded them. Amanda was beginning to believe her. Finally, in frustration, they left, thinking they had received a false report.
Amanda held her breath until they could no longer hear the horses. Then, still whispering from fear, Amanda asked, "Mother, wherever did you put the Bible?"
"Let me take the bread out of the oven first; I was afraid it might get too done before they left. . . . There now, doesn’t that look fine?" Mother said, holding up the first loaf. "Isn’t it wonderful how the Lord always provides for our needs? Dear, we must thank the Lord for protecting us, for surely if He had not sent His angel we would have been caught."
"But, Mother, where is the Bible? Did an angel really take it?"
"Not exactly, my dear," Mother answered. "But an angel did tell me what to do. Come, let us kneel and thank God for His protection."
"Now, dear," said Mother upon rising from her knees, "We will have some fresh bread for supper when Father comes. He should be here shortly." Then, as though remembering Amanda’s question, she said, "You will find out about the Bible then."
Now Amanda watched the path for Father. Upon seeing him, she ran to give him the exciting details of the day. "Wherever Mother put the Bible I do not know," Amanda said breathlessly.
The house was still a wreck, but the table was set, and there in the middle of it was a loaf of bread. It was not the prettiest loaf of bread, as Mother had evidently not had time to smooth it out when the soldiers came. After grace, Mother cut the bread. Usually Father cut it, but this time Mother insisted. How carefully, almost reverently, she cut through the crust, as though this loaf of bread was the most precious thing on earth.
"Mother! There is the Bible!" Amanda exclaimed. Cautiously, Mother peeled the bread away from the precious Book. It seemed undamaged, as though miraculously preserved.
"So that is what happened to the Bible!" said Amanda in wonder. "You wrapped it in the bread dough and stuck it in the oven. Surely, if you had not been studying the Bible while making your bread you could not have hidden it, and the soldiers would have found it."
"That is right," said Mother. "When the soldiers came, I did not have time to even think. It was as if an angel spoke to me, and my hands immediately complied. I wrapped the Bible in the bread dough, put it in the last loaf pan, and put it into the oven. I would never have been able to think of it so quickly. Surely the Lord has protected us."