Door of Vatican’s secret archive opens an inch
CONTAINING more than 80 kilometres of shelves packed with an unknown number of papal documents spanning 12 centuries, including correspondence with Genghis Khan’s grandson, Wolfgang Mozart and Adolf Hitler, the Vatican’s secret archive opened to the public for the first time yesterday, putting on show 100 documents in Rome.
Usually the preserve of select scholars, the archive boasts such treasures as a letter, bearing 81 wax seals, sent by British nobles to Pope Clement VII in 1530 demanding King Henry VIII be allowed to divorce Catherine of Aragon, a request the Pope refused, helping prompt the formation of the Church of England.
The letter, lost on the shelves until 1920, takes pride of place alongside an 1887 letter from a North American Indian chief, written on a strip of bark, addressing the Pope as the ‘‘Grand Master of Prayers’’, and Galileo Galilei’s shaky signature on his retraction in 1633 of his heliocentric views after the Vatican put him on trial for heresy.
From 1493 there is the papal bull that split the new world between Spain and Portugal after Columbus’s return from the Americas.
The archive, long bestowed with an aura of mystery, notably in the film of Dan Brown’s Angels & Demons, which depicted the archive as a high-tech steel bunker of secrets, is in real life a more down-to-earth maze of grey corridors with bare cement ceilings, winding staircases and sleepy scholars.
But not all the archive’s secrets are on show.
A section locked off behind a wire fence contains correspondence from after 1939 that researchers suspect may hold clues to the Vatican’s real relationship with the Nazis.