Have you heard about the Vatican’s Secret Archive? That would be somewhat ironic due to the fact that it’s secret. However, it’s relatively well-known that the Vatican is the owner of the world’s largest and most important archive of historical documents in terms of letters and manuscripts. 

Founded in 1612, the Archive contains hundreds of thousands of documents on nearly 100 km of shelving. Only the curators have access to enter the gigantic vault. Not even the Archive’s owner – the Pope himself – may be allowed. One could wonder what kind of secrets that the Archive holds?

The process of getting to know the secrets is somewhat difficult. Until 1881, no one outside the Vatican was allowed into the Archive. Nowadays, you need to have permission from the Vatican, obtained by a written letter of recommendation from a reputable academic. Nonetheless, to actually read a document, you need to appeal for it specifically. You can’t just ask for “something about Saint Peter”. You need to be very specific and provide all the information about the item in question. Note that no one is allowed to browse the Archive, meaning that if you don’t know what’s inside, then you just don’t know! So how is it possible to get to know the secrets? Well, it’s not possible. The best you can accomplish is to access something that you already know everything about. 

Some information about the Archive is, however, public knowledge. We know that it contains a lot of correspondence of different Pope’s, including two letters sent by Jefferson Davis and Abraham Lincoln, both dated from the beginning of the U.S. Civil War, in which they were asking for the support of Pope Pius IX (pp. 1846-1878). Regarding correspondence letters – all the documents related to a Pope are classified as top-secret until 75 years have passed since the Pope’s death. The next documents in line to be declassified are the documents of Pope Pius XII (pp. 1939-1958), which will take place in the year 2033. That’s something many await eagerly because Pope Pius XII is said to be involved with secret attempts to execute the Nazi leader Adolf Hitler in 1943. But until 2033, it’s classified as top-secret without any exceptions, not even for Pope Francis (pp. 2013-) or the Archive’s current curator, José Tolentino de Mendonça. 

In “King Lear”, William Shakespeare wrote that “nothing come of nothing”. Well, that certainly isn’t true for conspiracy theorists who claim that the Vatican is hiding knowledge about extraterrestrial life. Others say that the Archive holds extraordinary information about Jesus Christ. That would surely mean that knowledge of groundbreaking significance is hidden from the public… However, the Vatican does claim that the documents are harmless. Who to believe?

By the way – “Archivum Secretum Vaticanum” doesn’t actually mean secret archive; it’s Latin for Vatican’s personal archive. Yet, we all know it as being a secret archive. If that would be the case, then I wouldn’t even be able to write the words that you’ve just read.

/Alexander Bitar

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