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Vatican mystery: A stolen 500-year-old copy of Christopher Columbus’ letter is found in the U.S.

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Investigators discover that the purloined letter had been replaced by a forgery.

Investigators have recovered a copy of a letter written by Christopher Columbus describing his first voyage to the New World that had been stolen from the Vatican and replaced by a forgery.

The Columbus Letter was written in 1493, to those who made his voyage possible: his royal patrons Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. In what was the 15th-century equivalent of the press release, 500 copies were then published to spread the news of the successful venture, according to a report in the Telegraph.

Only a few copies have survived, and until now, the Vatican believed that they owned one of them. When investigators were tipped off to the existence of a letter owned by Robert Parsons, an American collector, they realized that the copy within the Vatican was in fact a fake.

Parsons, the Telegraph reports, bought the letter in 2004 for $875,000 and was not aware that it had been stolen.

In his letter to Spain, Columbus described the natural wonders of the Caribbean:

“They are most beautiful, of a thousand varied forms, accessible, and full of trees of endless varieties, so high that they seem to touch the sky, and I have been told that they never lose their foliage,” he wrote, according to a translation by the Independence Hall Association.

“I saw them as green and lovely as trees are in Spain in the month of May.”

The letter has since been returned to the Vatican, and the mystery of who stole it remains unsolved.

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