THE COLUMBUS LETTER: “A PRECIOUS PIECE OF HISTORY RETURNS HOME”

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.

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U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RETURN 1493 COLUMBUS LETTER TO VATICAN LIBRARY

U.S. AMBASSADOR TO RETURN 1493 COLUMBUS LETTER TO VATICAN LIBRARY

U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista L. Gingrich, will return a recovered copy of a letter written by Christopher Columbus to its rightful home at the Vatican Library on Thursday, June 14, at 11:00 a.m., according to a news release from the U.S Embassy to the Holy See.

Ambassador Gingrich, along with representatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) will present the letter to the Vatican’s Archivist and Librarian, Archbishop Jean-Louis Bruguès, O.P. and the Library’s Prefect, Bishop Cesare Pasini for the event.

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.

In 2011, HSI was contacted by a rare book and manuscript expert who believed the Columbus Letter in the Vatican’s collection to be a forgery. After notifying Vatican authorities of the possible theft, DHS officials coordinated the examination of the letter by subject matter experts, including specialists from Princeton University.

It is unknown when precisely the document was stolen, but U.S. agents were able to trace the original letter to Mr. Robert Parsons, an actuary from Atlanta, who purchased it from a rare book dealer in New York City in 2004, unaware that it had been taken from the Vatican.

After being presented with evidence of the theft and forgery of the Columbus Letter, Mr. Parsons’ widow, Mary Parsons, agreed to voluntarily relinquish and abandon all rights, title, and interest in the letter so that it could be returned to the Vatican.

HSI has recovered and returned three Columbus Letters as part of their ongoing investigations into 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 in Florence, Italy, and the Library of Catalonia in Barcelona, Spain.

(JFL: The story about the recovered artefact first appeared last August and the Wall Street Journal was the first to print it. In its account the WSJ said that the letter describes lands with “large flowing rivers” and “trees of endless varieties,” and of timid natives who “are so unsuspicious and so generous with what they possess, that no one who had not seen it would believe it.” Hopefully the ceremony tomorrow will reveal more of the content of what is now known as The Christopher Columbus Letter)

SECURITY AND THE VATICAN – EMBASSY URGES CAUTION IN WORLDWIDE SECURITY MESSAGE TO U.S. CITIZENS

SECURITY AND THE VATICAN

(ANSA) – Vatican City, January 12 – The Vatican on Monday denied reports that it has been alerted that it could be the next target of Islamist terrorists after last week’s attacks in France and called on the media not to feed alarmism. Vatican Spokesman Father Federico Lombardi said the Holy See had not received “reports of specific risks” from foreign security agencies. “So it is not opportune to feed groundless concerns,” he added.

(VIS) – Vatican City, January 12, 2015 – The director of the Holy See Press Office, Fr. Federico Lombardi, S.J., gave the following declaration to journalists today: “Contrary to the claims made by some organs of the media, the Holy See has not been informed of specific risks by the security services of other countries. The Holy See maintains its usual, appropriate contacts with the security services, and in view of the current situation advises a reasonable level of attention and prudence, but concrete and specific risks have not been indicated. There is therefore no reason to arouse concerns that may needlessly affect both those who live and work in the Vatican and the many pilgrims and tourists who visit on a daily basis.”

(ANSA) (cont’d) – Israeli State television reported that American intelligence services have warned the Vatican that it could be the next target for Islamist terrorists on Sunday, as international leaders joined around two million people taking part in a massive anti-terrorism rally in Paris.

Interior Minister Angelino Alfano said Monday the Italian authorities had found no confirmation to the reports either. “We have done checks in the reporting system with the security authorities of other countries as it is not the case for us,” Alfano said. The minister stressed, however, that the level of alert was high as the Vatican is a potential target. “Unfortunately, the Vatican has been mentioned many times by ISIS,” he said. “That’s why we don’t underestimate any hypothesis, not even the most tenuous.”

Alfano’s words echoed statements given earlier on Monday by Diego Parente, the head of the Rome section of the Italian police’s DIGOS anti-terror squad. “At the moment there is no confirmation about the threats to the Vatican, but the level of alert is at the maximum,” Parente said. “There is not yet any confirmation of this latest alarm.” Parente said that the authorities have beefed up security measures in Rome’s Jewish quarter and around the city’s Jewish school in the wake of the attacks. “(Security) services have been redesigned and strengthened outside all the sensitive (potential) targets,” Parente said. He added that these included embassies, monuments, place of worship and offices of news organisations and broadcasters.

EMBASSY URGES CAUTION IN WORLDWIDE SECURITY MESSAGE TO U.S. CITIZENS

(Here, in part, is the message that the U.S. Embassy in Rome sent today to citizens living in Italy who have registered with the Embassy. U.S. embassies around the world will send similar or identical messages to citizens registered in the country where the embassy is located. Such notices are also sent to citizens who register with STEP (see final paragraph):

Worldwide Caution

Last Updated: January 9, 2015

“The Department of State is updating the Worldwide Caution to provide information on the continuing threat of terrorist actions and violence against U.S. citizens and interests throughout the world. Recent terrorist attacks, whether by those affiliated with terrorist entities, copycats, or individual perpetrators, serve as a reminder that U.S. citizens need to maintain a high level of vigilance and take appropriate steps to increase their security awareness. This replaces the Worldwide Caution dated October 10, 2014.

“The Department of State remains concerned about the continued threat of terrorist attacks, demonstrations, and other violent actions against U.S. citizens and interests overseas. On September 22, 2014, the United States and regional partners commenced military action against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), a designated terrorist organization in Syria and Iraq. In response to the airstrikes, ISIL called on supporters to attack foreigners wherever they are. Authorities believe there is an increased likelihood of reprisal attacks against U.S., Western and coalition partner interests throughout the world, especially in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and Asia.

“Kidnappings and hostage events involving U.S. citizens have become increasingly prevalent as ISIL, al Qa`ida and its affiliates have increased attempts to finance their operations through kidnapping for ransom operations. ISIL, al-Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) are particularly effective with kidnapping for ransom and are using ransom money to fund the range of their activities. Kidnapping targets are usually Western citizens from governments or third parties that have established a pattern of paying ransoms for the release of individuals in custody.

“Extremists may elect to use conventional or non-conventional weapons, and target both official and private interests. Examples of such targets include high-profile sporting events, residential areas, business offices, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, schools, public areas, shopping malls, and other tourist destinations both in the United States and abroad where U.S. citizens gather in large numbers, including during holidays.

“U.S. citizens are reminded of the potential for terrorists to attack public transportation systems and other tourist infrastructure. Extremists have targeted and attempted attacks on subway and rail systems, aviation, and maritime services. In the past, these types of attacks have occurred in cities such as Moscow, London, Madrid, Glasgow, and New York City.”

The Message continues by looking at specific regions of the world (though not specific threats), including Europe, Middle East and North Africa, Africa, South Asia, Central Asia, East Asia and the Pacific.

The embassy also advises the following (in part):

“BEFORE YOU GO

“The Department of State urges U.S. citizens living overseas or planning to travel abroad to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP).  When you enroll in STEP, we can keep you up to date with important safety and security announcements.  Enrolling will also make it easier for the Embassy to contact you in the event of an emergency.  You should remember to keep all of your information in STEP up to date; it is particularly important when you enroll or update your information to include a current phone number and e-mail address.”