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Vatican reveals a selection of historic documents from its secret archives

A preview of the official video for the exhibition-event Lux in Arcana -- The Vatican Secret Archives reveals itself http://www.luxinarcana.org. Filmed inside the Vatican Secret Archives, it shows rooms and bunkers in the Archive of the Popes, together with some of the 100 original documents that will leave the Vatican City for the first time in history. 12 centuries of history, 400 years of life, 85 kilometres of shelving: the world's most famous Archive reveals itself in the extraordinary halls of Rome's Capitoline Museums. Conclaves, heresies, popes and emperors. Crusades, excommunications, ciphered letters. Manuscripts, codices, ancient parchments. An exceptional and once-in-a-lifetime chance to learn History through its sources. February-September 2012.

Galileo's retraction of his theories and the excommunication of Martin Luther are among the closely guarded documents that the Vatican has put on display to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the establishment of its archives at its current location in Rome.

The Holy See on Wednesday opened an exhibition of 100 documents -- a tiny fraction of its archives -- in Rome’s Capitoline Museums. The exhibit is entitled “Lux in Arcana: The Vatican Secret Archives Reveals itself.”


It is the first, and possibly the only time, the documents will be seen outside the Vatican walls, according to the exhibition’s website.

Britain’s Telegraph newspaper live-blogged the exhibit's opening on its website on Wednesday. 

Some of the documents on display include:

  • A letter from an English nobleman to Pope Clement VII in 1530 that demands that King Henry VIII be allowed to divorce Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn.
  • An 1887 letter from a Native American chief written on a strip of bark that refers to the pope as the "Grand Master of Prayers."
  • The astronomer Galileo’s retraction of his theories of the galaxy after his trial on heresy charges in 1633.
  • Documents from the trials of the Knights Templar.
  • The excommunication decree of reform leader Martin Luther.
  • The abdication deed of Queen Christina of Sweden. Rumored to be a hermaphrodite, she gave up her throne in 1654 to convert to Catholicism and move to Rome.

The documents in the exhibition are only a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of documents in the pope’s archive, which also includes the popes' correspondence with such historical figures as Michelangelo, Voltaire, Mozart, Hitler and even Abraham Lincoln.

The Vatican archives are typically only seen by closely scrutinized researchers and scholars.

Business Insider contributed to this report.

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