Vatican Secrets Revealed
A rare display of documents from the Vatican’s secret archives is currently on show in the Capitoline Museums in Rome. The documents span 12 centuries and four continents. This is the first and probably the last time that they will leave the Vatican.
The exhibition’s title, Lux in Arcana: The Vatican Secret Archives Reveals Itself, explains its purpose. In this case the word ‘secret’, in Latin, means private and describes the personal correspondence of popes, covering a range of subjects: pleas for help, bulls of condemnation, theological and terrestrial laws, correspondence with saints, sinners and world powers of the past. These documents were first kept in Castel Sant’Angelo. Since 1612 they have been held in the Vatican itself, where they now occupy 50 miles of temperature-controlled shelf space.
Some of the objects are simple letters written on birch bark, silk and parchment; others are dignified by seals and signatures. In 1530 Henry VIII persuaded 83 nobles and clergy to send an appeal to Pope Clement VII, granting him a divorce from Katherine of Aragon. Their wax seals dangle on red ribbons but the document failed to convince the pope. In a hurry to have a son, Henry turned his back on the papacy and founded the Church of England. Henry VIII called the appeal his ‘secret matter’ and the document has been described as ‘the most impressive ever circulated by the Tudors’.