Happy Flag Day to my fellow Americans! Wear a button on a lapel, have one on your car or hang one from a flagpole but be sure to honor the Stars and Stripes today.
And what a perfect day for our U.S. ambassador to the Holy See to return a piece of history – history for both the United States and Spain – to the rightful owner, the Vatican Apostolic Library! Read on!
THE COLUMBUS LETTER: “A PRECIOUS PIECE OF HISTORY RETURNS HOME”
U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista Gingrich, in a ceremony this morning in the Vatican Library, returned a recovered copy of a letter written by Christopher Columbus to its rightful home in the Vatican Library. She presented the letter to the Vatican’s Archivist and Librarian, Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, O.P. and the Library’s Prefect, Bishop Cesare Pasini, in the presence of representatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) for their role in recovering the letter.
The Columbus Letter, as it is known, is an account of the explorer’s discovery of America written in 1493 to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. The text was translated into Latin and several copies were distributed around Europe. The Vatican Library received one of these copies in 1921 as part of the “De Rossi Collection” of rare books and manuscripts.
Archbishop Bruguès said, “this is an historic day for the library because a document returns home, a document that tells a story that belongs to both America and Spain.”
He also praised Mary Parsons, the widow of the late Robert Parsons who bought the document for $875,000 in what he assumed was a legitimate sale. Parsons had no knowledge that the document had been stolen from the Vatican.
Once the truth was known. his widow decided to give the document back to the Vatican, saying she knows that is what her late husband would have wanted, notwithstanding the huge financial loss.
It was revealed today that Mary Parsons wrote a letter to Pope Francis and it was brought days ago to the Vatican from the United States.
Ambassador Gingrich said, “A precious piece of history has returned home. I am very honored to return it to its rightful owner.”
Her full speech is here: https://va.usembassy.gov/ambassador-gingrich-returns-letter-by-christopher-columbus-to-the-vatican/
The archbishop said, “we do not know exactly when the substitution took place. However the forgery was reproduced with both visual and tactile aspects. We may never know who forged this.”
No one knows exactly when or how the letter was removed from the Vatican Library. It could have been purloined during a re-binding of the volume with Columbus letters as the Vatican does not do its own binding, but rather outsources it.
It seems something similar could not happen today because, about a dozen years ago, books in the library – books, documents, parchments, etc, – had microchips installed in them. Researchers who have gained permission to study in the library have their own ID card with a microchip inside and the library personnel knows at every moment where they are and what document they are looking at.
Click here to see photos of the encounter in the Vatican Library: https://www.flickr.com/photos/162526072@N02/sets/72157696287455181
The following information sheet is compliments of the U.S Embassy to the Holy See.
The embassy also sent photos of both the authentic and forged letters but they were in pdf format and I have no program in my computer that will convert them to jpg to post here. I have spent the better part of an hour trying to convert them. Hopefully I can eventually get those to you. I am trying to download a program that will convert the photos: if that works, I’ll get the pictures to you.
Columbus Letter Fact Sheet
In September 2011, U.S. Department of Homeland Security Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) received information from an expert of rare books and manuscripts pertaining to alleged forgeries of several 15th-century original, manually printed Latin editions of what are commonly known as the “Columbus Letter (1493)”.
The expert reported that in November 2010 in the Vatican Library’s De Rossi Collection he observed a “Plannck II – Columbus Letter,” printed in Rome in 1493 by Stephan Plannck. After examining the “Plannck II”, the expert believed it to not be original. He based his opinion on his observation that the chain lines of the pages did not match other authentic versions that the he had previously examined. The non-authentic “Columbus Letter” now in the volume was not part the original stitching; it was separately and loosely stitched into the binding. It was also clear from the dimensions of the white bulking leaves that the original and authentic De Rossi copy of the Columbus Letter was short, with a leaf height of approximately 18.5 cm.
In December 2013, the late American collector David Parsons sent his “Plannck II – Columbus Letter,” which he had purchased in 2004, to the same expert for authentication. The expert found it to be authentic and noted that its leaf height was the same as that of the suspected Vatican De Rossi copy. Although it was now in a modern binding, sewing holes in the inner fold of its leaves showed that in an earlier binding it had been sewn on five bands, just like the Vatican De Rossi copy. Moreover, in the suspect copy of the “Columbus Letter,” the leaves were numbered in pencil in the upper right corner: 1, 2, 3, 4. In the Parsons copy, the expert noticed that the leaves had been penciled in the same way, although erased. Thus, it was considered plausible that when the fake “Columbus Letter” was inserted into the volume “Ross. 674” held by the Vatican, pencil markings were added to match that of the stolen, authentic copy, making it harder to notice that there had been a replacement.
In June 2016, a separate expert in the rare book trade confirmed to HSI that the Parsons owned “Columbus Letter” was sold to a New York book dealer by Marino Massimo De Caro, a notorious Italian book thief. De Caro is currently serving a seven-year sentence in Italy for the theft of approximately 4,000 ancient books and manuscripts from public and private libraries in Italy, including the Girolamini Library in Naples, Italy.
Officials from the U.S. Embassy to the Holy See met with Vatican Library officials to present the facts of the case. Vatican Library officials agreed to send the letter in their possession (the fake letter) to the United States for comparative analysis. Subsequently in April 2017, HSI met with the expert at Princeton University to conduct a comparative analysis of the Vatican – De Rossi copy and the Parsons owned Columbus Letter. During the examination, the expert determined the Parsons Columbus Letter had been removed from the Vatican Library sometime before 2004.
In August 2017, HSI took possession of the Parsons/Vatican Columbus Letter from Mr. Parsons’ widow, who voluntarily surrendered the letter after being notified of the conclusions of the expert’s examinations. Mrs. Parsons agreed to voluntarily return the Columbus Letter as long as it is rightfully returned to the custody of the Vatican.
To date, HSI has recovered and formally returned three “Columbus Letters” as part of their ongoing investigations related to a network of dealers and brokers involved in the illicit sale of stolen books and manuscripts. In addition to the Vatican Columbus Letter, HSI has confiscated and returned Columbus Letters that belong to the Riccardiana Library, Florence, Italy and the Library of Catalunya, Barcelona, Spain.