Vatican Secret Archives Open Vaults

All eyes are now on the Lux in Arcana exhibition

You could call it a sensation. To mark its 400th year of existence, the Vatican Secret Archives (Archivum Secretum Vaticanum) is exhibiting a selection of the most important documents in the possession of the influential city state to the public. Around 100 documents, letters, and other written records have left the protective walls of the Vatican’s central archive in Vatican City for the Musei Capitolini on the Capitoline Hill in Rome, where they will be exhibited to the public from March 1 – September 9 as part of the “Lux in Arcana” exhibition.

When compared to an estimated 85 kilometers of shelf storage, the number of objects on exhibition in Lux in Arcana does not seem especially impressive. But it is obvious that the curators were following the “quality, not quantity” principle when they were putting the exhibition together. The collection’s most spectacular documents from the past 12 centuries are on show – including documents from the process against Galileo Galilei (1564 – 1642) and a 60-meter-long documentation of the trial of the Knights Templar! A number of letters from historical personalities such as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791); George Boleyn, Viscount Rochford, the brother of Henry VIII wife #2, Anne Boleyn (1503/4-1536); Marie Antoinette (1755-1793); Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865); Thomas Wolsey (1473-1530); and Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) are carefully displayed along with curiosities like a letter addressed to Pope Innocent X (1574-1655) written on silk.

The Vatican Secret Archives are not as secret as they sound. It was originally meant to draw a line between the pope’s archive and the places where the rest of the church’s papers were stored. But because hardly anybody other than the pope has had access to it for centuries, an aura of mystery surrounds the rooms. The archives have been open to scientists for around 130 years, but this has not taken away from its very special atmosphere.

And when visitors to the Lux in Arcana exhibition soak in the profound atmosphere that surrounds these treasures of human history, they will indeed have a sense of light illuminating places of the utmost secrecy.

Lux in arcana Vatican Exhibition
March 1-Sept. 9, 2012
Musei Capitolini in Rome
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