The Vatican Library is home to many rare and important documents, some of which can only be found in a handful of other places. Among others, these writings include rare copies of a letter written by Christopher Columbus shortly after discovering the New World. The Vatican Library houses several of these copies but in recent years it was discovered that some of them are actually forgeries. The latest of these forgeries was found a few days ago in the US and promptly returned to the library.
The original letter was written by Christopher Columbus in 1493 for Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand. The purpose of this letter was to inform them about the New World. In it, Columbus describes not only the landscape and the natural wildlife but also the native population. The natives were poorly equipped to wage war against a more advanced civilization like Spain, which eventually lead to their conquest. According to Columbus’ report, Spain would be able to easily conquer this new land and convert its people to Christianity. As it happens, Christopher Columbus was right because that’s exactly what happened shortly after.
The text consisted of an eight-page document which was originally written in Spanish. However, it didn’t take long for the text to be translated into Latin and various other languages. The letter that was recently returned to the Vatican Library was one of the original Latin translations. The document dates all the way back to the 15th century and was acquired by the Vatican in 1921. Vatican Library representatives don’t know exactly when the letter was stolen and replaced with a forgery. However, the swap must have occurred some time ago because it was recently discovered that the original had been in the US for more than a decade.
The document was purchased in 2004 by one David Parsons who was perhaps not aware of its significance at the time. Parsons later passed away and the letter remained in the possession of his widow, Mary, until recently. Neither Mary nor her late husband knew that the text had been stolen from the Vatican Library. When presented with evidence by US investigators, however, she agreed to return the letter to its rightful owner.
Not the First Letter Returned by US Investigators
US investigators have reportedly been aware since 2011 that copies of the letter were being stolen from libraries across Europe and replaced with forgeries. It’s unclear how many copies still remain missing but the investigators already managed to recover three of them so far. In addition to the one recently returned to the Vatican Library, the investigators also tracked down two more copies. The letters were missing from the National Library of Catalonia in Spain and the Riccardina library in Italy. These two copies were also promptly returned to their rightful owners.