The name alone is enough to excite curiosity. For centuries, the Vatican Secret Archives have been regarded as perhaps the most enigmatic and inaccessible collection of documents in the world.
They contain more than 50 miles of shelves of correspondence between successive popes and some of history’s biggest names, from Henry VIII to Hitler, Michelangelo to Mozart.
Now, though, the Vatican has allowed a sliver of light to shine into this most remarkable repository. The Holy See has permitted, for the first time, a commercial publishing company to produce a lavish, hard-bound book that features reproductions of more than 100 of the archives’ most fascinating documents.
“We were amazed by the access we were given and the speed with which the whole project was completed,” says Paul Van den Heuvel, the head of the Belgian publishing house undertaking the task. “The Vatican is beginning to realize what an incredible asset it has.”
The tentative opening up to the outside world is also an attempt to dispel some of the myths and mystique that have always enveloped the archives.
The 30 archivists who work in the Secret Archives, in an inner sanctum of the Vatican City State, are eager to dispel the notion that they guard the Roman Catholic Church’s darkest secrets.
“They are the private archives of the popes. We really don’t have many secrets,” says Marco Grilli, the secretary to the prefecture of the archives.
Zadkielix alias D.M