Aleteia logoAleteia logo
Sunday 25 July |
The Feast of Saint James the Great
home iconArt & Culture
line break icon

US returns letter from Christopher Columbus to Vatican Library


Public Domain

J-P Mauro - published on 06/16/18

We may never know how the letter was taken from the Vatican unnoticed.

The United States government has returned to the Vatican a copy of a letter that Christopher Columbus wrote to his Spanish benefactors, declaring his discovery of America. The document had been acquired by the Vatican Archives in the 1920s, but mysteriously disappeared in 1934, replaced by a forgery.

The Washington Post reports that during a ceremony at the Vatican Library, U.S. Ambassador Callista Gingrich presented the letter to the chief Vatican archivist, Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues, and the prefect of the library, Bishop Cesare Pasini. Both men thanked Gingrich and praised the “keen eye and fine detective work” of US investigators in finding the stolen piece of history.

Christopher Columbus wrote the letter in Spanish in order to send news of his discovery to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The monarch translated the letter into Latin and distributed copies all over Europe. The document that has been returned to the Vatican is one of the only few surviving copies of this historic announcement.

The document was found in the collection of Robert Parsons, a collector of travel literature manuscripts, who had acquired the text in 2004 for the significant amount of $875,000, unaware of its history. When Parsons died in 2014, his collection was inherited by his widow, who allowed the copy to be examined by the officials investigating the early 20th-century theft.

The US magistracy acknowledged that the widow Parsons was unaware of the theft of the document and stated, “After an attentive examination of the dimensions of the pages, the pencil notes and the binding, the expert concluded that the original copy was the one in possession of Mary Parsons, and that the one that is currently preserved in the Vatican it is nothing more than a forgery.”

At the ceremony Archbishop Brugues commented that the Vatican still has no clue as to how the document was stolen. He noted that the method by which the forgery was produced was quite common in the 19th and 20th centuries. “So we will probably never know for sure who the forger was.”

Support Aleteia!

If you’re reading this article, it’s thanks to the generosity of people like you, who have made Aleteia possible.

Here are some numbers:

  • 20 million users around the world read every month
  • Aleteia is published every day in seven languages: English, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Polish, and Slovenian
  • Each month, readers view more than 50 million pages
  • Nearly 4 million people follow Aleteia on social media
  • Each month, we publish 2,450 articles and around 40 videos
  • We have 60 full time staff and approximately 400 collaborators (writers, translators, photographers, etc.)

As you can imagine, these numbers represent a lot of work. We need you.

Support Aleteia with as little as $1. It only takes a minute. Thank you!

Daily prayer
And today we celebrate...

Top 10
Philip Kosloski
This morning prayer is easy to memorize
Cerith Gardiner
8 Powerful quotes from Nightbirde that will fill you with hope
Daniel Esparza
5 Curious things you might not know about Catholicism
Philip Kosloski
Why is Latin the official language of the Church, instead of Aram...
Daniel Esparza
3 Legendary pilgrimages off the beaten path
Daniel Esparza
Who are the cherubim in the Bible?
Zelda Caldwell
Did Jesus wear “tefillin” as some observant Jews do t...
See More
Get Aleteia delivered to your inbox. Subscribe here.