Sunday, 3 January 2010

Some of the Vatican's Secret Archives Revealed


A 13th-century letter from the grandson of Ghengis Khan to Pope Innocent IV is just one of 105 secret documents revealed by the Vatican in a new book.

The collection spans 1,200 years and documents the story of the papacy. Nineteen of the documents, which are available in the book "The Vatican Secret Archives," have never been published before.

Pope Leo XIII ordered the archives opened to researchers in 1881, and currently 60 to 80 scholars work there each day, sifting through the parchments, ledgers, letters and texts.

The new book lets readers see some of the things the academics have seen, including handwritten letters to Pope Pius IX from Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis written in 1863 while the Civil War raged on.

There is also a note from Michelangelo written in 1550 demanding payment from the papacy which was three months late, and complaining that a papal conclave had interrupted his work on the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Letters to the pope from Hitler and Japan's Emperor Hirohito are also in the book. Cardinal Raffaele Farina wrote the preface which reads: "An aura of mystery has always surrounded this important cultural institution of the Holy See due to the allusions to inaccessible secrets thanks to its very name, as well as to the publicity it has always enjoyed in literature and in the media."

According to National Geographic, 264 popes have reigned over the course of more than 2,000 years and in that time they have written major parts of the history of the Western world. Their stories fill some 30 miles of shelves in the Vatican Secret Archives , home to many of the pivotal documents of Western history.