The mysteries of the Vatican Secret Archive to be revealed

The Vatican Secret Archives have long been a mystery to scholars around the world.

Buried deep below Vatican City, in a concrete walled bunker, the archives are said to contain over 52 miles of shelving filled with millions of documents relating to the very origin, nature, activities and development of the Roman Church.  

They also contain state papers, correspondence, and important private archives of noble families linked to the Pontifical State accumulated over the centuries with the oldest document dating back to the 8th Century

The archives, and the secrets held within, have long been a fascination to those in power.  In 1810, by order of Napoleon, the archives were taken to Paris, and then returned to the Vatican between 1815 and 1817.

Access to the archives remained absolutely closed to outsiders until 1881.

The archives are considered one of the most important historical research centres in the world. Only a handful of carefully vetted scholars have been allowed access over the last 129 years.

However, that's now changing. The Archives are now being opened to outsiders.

The English newspaper, the Daily Telegraph, reports it is:

"An attempt to dispel the myths and mystique created by works of fiction such as Dan Brown's Angels and Demons"

After languishing lost in a drawer until the 1920's one of the talking points of the archive is a 2.5 kilo letter with 81 wax seals sent by Members of the British House of Lords to Pope Clement VII in 1530, demanding a divorce for Henry VIII.

Historian David Starkey commented "To understand England we need to have this document in mind"

The letter, complete with wax seals, has been painstakingly reproduced for sale in the Vatican Gift shop. 200 copies are being made and are set to be the most expensive item in the gift shop with a price tag of €50,000 each.

Henry VIII divorce plea
Henry VIII divorce plea

The refusal to grant Henry VIII an annulment in his marriage to Catherine of Aragon ultimately led Henry VIII to reject the authority of the Pope and install himself as head of the Church of England.

Starkey describes the event as:

'It is an event of enormous magnitude, the most important event in English history,'

The only comparable document relating to a request for an annulment is Henry VIII's personal divorce plea, dated 1529, this is held by Paul Fraser Collectibles, a British company specializing in unique pieces of historical memorabilia.

Company spokesman Adrian Roose said "As impressive as the Vatican Secret Archive document is, it is a third party plea for a wedding annulment, dated 1530, whereas the document we hold is dated 1529 and represents Henry VIII's personal appeal and is signed by Henry himself."

The Vatican Secret Archive also features correspondence between the Vatican and major historical figures including Michelangelo, Mozart, Voltaire and even Hitler.

Other letters relate to the trials of the Knights Templar from 1308-1310.

It was Pope Innocent II who issued the decree in 1139 that the Knights Templar could pass freely through any border, owed no taxes, and were subject to on one's authority but the Pope's.

The Vatican Secret Archive will not be giving access to all one million documents.

Marco Grilli, the secretary to the prefecture of the archives told the Telegraph "We really don't have many secrets"

However Mr Grilli did admit there is a section that will remain off limits to scholars...

The Secret Archives will continue to retain an element of secrecy.


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