US returns stolen 'Columbus Letter' to Vatican Library

AFP - [email protected]
US returns stolen 'Columbus Letter' to Vatican Library
Inside the Vatican Library. Photo: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana/AFP

The United States on Thursday returned to the Vatican a copy of a handwritten 15th-century letter by Christopher Columbus in which the explorer recounts his "discovery of America" to the Spanish royal family.


The Columbus Letter, written in 1493, was handed back to the Vatican Library, described as the letter's "rightful home", on Thursday morning, according to a statement released by the US Embassy to the Holy See.

US ambassador Callista Gingrich gave the document to Vatican chief archivist Jean-Louis Brugues, accompanied by officials from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI).

The original Columbus Letter was translated into Latin after Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella received it and several copies were distributed around Europe. The Vatican Library received one of these copies in 1921.

The US embassy statement says that in 2011, HSI was contacted by an expert in rare manuscripts who said the letter in the Vatican's possession was a forgery, used as a replacement in a robbery. The date of the theft is not known.

The stolen copy was tracked down to the US city of Atlanta, where it had arrived after a local man, now deceased, bought it from a New York book dealer in 2004, apparently unaware that it had been stolen.

It will be the third stolen letter written by Columbus returned by the DHS, with one going to a library in Florence and the other to a library in Barcelona. 

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Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP


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