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The Vatican Secret Archives—Revealed!

By Dr. Jeff Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Apr 27, 2010

The name of the Vatican Secret Archives suggests intrigue and adventure, and perhaps that’s not far off, considering the documents it houses. Fortunately, the Belgian publisher VdH has just released a rich coffee-table book on the Vatican Secret Archives in collaboration with Archivist Cardinal Raffaele Farina and the Secret Archives staff. This is a magnificent oversized hardback volume (12” x 12” x 1.5” thick), complete with two ribbons, featuring striking color photography of the Secret Archives building, historic furnishings, and art.

More importantly, the book covers in detail 105 of the Archives’ most intriguing documentary possessions, with photos and explanatory text. Until now, these documents could be viewed only by scholars with special approval. The selections in the book, of course, touch only the surface of everything housed in the Secret Archives. But the following list, covering roughly a quarter of the selected documents, will suggest the diversity and significance of the collection:

  • A book of papal formularies dating from the late 8th century which show the language used in various types of ecclesiastical affairs from as early as the 6th century.
  • A diploma approved by the Emperor Otto I in 962 recognizing the pope’s imperial autonomy in central Italy.
  • The Concordat of Worms between Pope Callixtus II and Emperor Henry V in 1122.
  • The letter from Emperor John II Comnenus to Pope Innocent II about the union of the Greek and Latin churches, 1139.
  • A letter of the Great Khan Güyük to Pope Innocent IV in 1246.
  • The documents of the papal inquest into the affairs of the Knights Templar in 1308.
  • The public retraction of Meister Eckhart in 1327.
  • The Council of Pisa’s attempt to depose both Pope Gregory XII and the anti-pope Benedict XIII (1409).
  • Tracts from 1469 on the life and visions of St. Francesca Romana.
  • The Bulls condemning and excommunicating Martin Luther, from 1520 and 1521.
  • Documents on Henry VIII’s “Great Matter” (his divorce) from 1530.
  • Documents and letters relating to Michelangelo’s commissions from Pope Paul III (1535 - 1550).
  • A letter of St. Teresa of Avila in 1577 to the agent who facilitated her new monastic foundations at the Spanish Court.
  • A letter of Mary Queen of Scots to Pope Sixtus V.
  • Acts in the processes against both Giordano Bruno (1597-98) and Galileo Galilei (1616-30).
  • A letter of the Christian Empress Helen of China from 1650.
  • Documents and maps on the liberation of Vienna from the Turks, 1683.
  • A letter of Pope Clement XII to the Dalai Lama of Tibet in 1738.
  • The conferral of the papal Order of the Golden Spur in Mozart, 1770.
  • Drawings of the Borghese family jewels made in 1834-1837.
  • The proclamation of the dogma of the Immaculate Conception in 1854.
  • Letters addressed to Pope Pius IX in the Fall of 1863 by both Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln.
  • A  letter from Sr. Bernadette to Pius IX from 1876.
  • A letter from American Indians to Leo XIII in 1887.
  • A letter of Pope Pius XI to Hitler in 1934.

This is a volume that every library should own, and that Catholic bibliophiles will want to have in their private collections. The listing on Amazon includes a picture of the book along with a few of the 344 color photographs that grace its pages. While the retail price is $99.50, it can be purchased for $69.65.

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