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Secret Vatican Archives
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Secret Vatican Archives

The Secret Vatican Archives contain the central repository of all the acts that have been promulgated by the Roman Catholic Church's Papal See, as well as diplomatic materials and correspondence of the Papal See and other documents that have accumulated over the centuries, and they include some of the seminal historical documents for understanding the real history of the Western world. The Secret Vatican Archives were removed from the Vatican Library in the 17th century under the orders of Pope Pius IV and remained absolutely closed to Vatican outsiders until the late 19th century, fuelling rumors of what might be secreted away there. The Secret Archives are still separately housed. Documents in the Secret Vatican Archives are open to accredited scholars up to 1922, the end of Pope Benedict XV's pontificate.

There are other secret archives at the Vatican. An even more secret archive known as the "Apostolic Penitentiary" contains papal documents and canon law, and a lot of other material that is hard to assess, because no one is allowed access. Nevertheless the Secret Archives are the main collection. The Secret Vatican Archives have been estimated to contain 30 miles of shelving, a little expansive, but there are 35,000 thick volumes in the selective catalogue alone: "Publication of the indexes, in part or as a whole, is forbidden," according to the regulations current in 2004. The Secret Vatican Archives support their own photographic and conservation studios.

The entire contents of the pre-8th century archives, with probably the world's best collection of heretical texts, have disappeared, according to the Vatican's official account of the library's history, "for reasons not entirely known." The documentation is a little scanty before the 13th century, but here are documents like Henry VII of England's request for a marriage annulment, a letter or two from Michelangelo.

This is the nearest thing the real world offers to the library in Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose and material is very securely lost in the archives. There is no browsing. Selected scholars must ask in advance for the precise document they wish to see, thus they must know in advance that such a document exists. The catalogue is not complete.

On February 20, 2002, Pope John Paul II took the extraordinary step of opening, from 2003, documents concerning Germany and relative to the period 1922-1939 contained in the archives of the Section for Relations with States. of the Secretariat of State, in order "to put an end to unjust and thoughtless speculation."

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