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Vatican Secret Archives Hardcover – October 1, 2009
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"An illustrated publication on the Vatican Secret Archives is not a novelty," the Cardinal also writes. Nonetheless, this publication stands out because of its incomparable photography emphasizing the uniqueness of each document and its authoritative, well-focused annotations. Readers coming new to the field of historical manuscripts and documents will understand the enthusiasm among collectors for not only their historical significance, but also their unique aesthetic qualities. Collectors of similar documents available through dealers or auctions can pore through the photographs for familiarity with touches such as calligraphic flourishes or stamps that increase the desirability of a document.
Front matter explains that the term "secret" for the Papal archives is related to the Latin derivation for "secretary" as someone in a position of trust often making up documents for a Pope, as with "secretarial documents". Though translated "secret" in English, the term in this sense implies "personal" or "private." While regarded as "private archives of the pope," most are made available to scholars with a good reason for seeing particular ones. Every year about 1,500 scholars do study documents in a reading room or internal library. The archives now have a laboratory for photography and digital reproduction, computer databases and operations, and administrative services connected to them.
This publication on the Vatican Secret Archives is an ideal gift for any book or ephemera lover. An art and coffee-table book offering moments of visual treats when opened to any page, it is also a work to be referred to again and again by the serious collector and the scholar for the knowledge to be gained.
The Vatican turns a page--slowly
Apr 29th 2010 | ROME | From The Economist print edition
NO UMBERTO ECO fan should go near the Tower of Winds: it could bring on sensory overload. Up a seemingly endless winding staircase is a room whose frescoes are alive with symbolism. The floor is sprinkled with signs of the zodiac and bisected by a line of white marble onto which a sun ray falls each day at noon. The so-called Meridian Hall, created to verify the accuracy of the calendar Pope Gregory XIII promulgated in 1582, is in the Vatican Secret Archives, which hold some 10m documents stored by the papacy over the past 1,200 years.
The name is a misleading anachronism that dates from when secret meant private ("secretary" has the same derivation). Some of the archives' records have been published in scholarly texts. Most have been physically available to researchers since the late 19th century. But access has always been severely restricted.
That is set to change. The success of Dan Brown's sinister depictions of Roman Catholicism, and his use of the Vatican Secret Archives as a setting for his novel "Angels and Demons", may be one reason for a policy of recent, greater openness. The most recent development is a lavishly illustrated, commercially published volume (VdH Books, $99.50 and £55). A paperback version should be available next year.
It includes reproductions of 105 documents, including 19 that have never before been published. The accompanying text rarely misses a chance to put the Holy See's slant on history, but this is still a bibliophile's treasure house. There is a church donation from 809. There are letters to popes from potentates, including the Great Khan Guyuk, sent from Karakorum in 1246, and from saints like the barely literate French girl, Bernadette Soubirous, who was born at Lourdes and whose message had to be corrected four times by the secretary of her convent.
There is correspondence with geniuses including Petrarch and Michelangelo, and a missive from that most notorious of cardinal's daughters, Lucrezia Borgia. The book contains treaties and Concordats, a papal dispensation for Giovanni Boccaccio, a summary of the trial of Giordano Bruno, the award of a decoration to Mozart and some delightful curiosities. One is a letter from native Americans to Pope Leo XIII. It was written on tree bark and sent from "where there is much grass in the month of the flowers".