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Vatican Secret Archives

Seal of the Vatican Secret Archives
Vatican Secret Archives is located in Vatican City
Vatican Secret Archives
Vatican Secret Archives
Location on a map of Vatican City

The Vatican Secret Archives (Latin: Archivum Secretum Apostolicum Vaticanum; Italian: Archivio Segreto Vaticano) is the central repository in the Vatican City for all of the acts promulgated by the Holy See. The Pope, as Sovereign of Vatican City and having primal incumbency, owns the archives until his death or resignation, with ownership passing to his successor. The archives also contain the state papers, correspondence, papal account books,[1] and many other documents which the church has accumulated over the centuries. In the 17th century, under the orders of Pope Paul V, the Secret Archives were separated from the Vatican Library, where scholars had some very limited access to them, and remained absolutely closed to outsiders until 1881, when Pope Leo XIII opened them to researchers, more than a thousand of whom now examine some of its documents each year.[2]


  • Name 1
  • Extent 2
  • Access 3
  • Opening of the archives 4
  • 2012 exhibition 5
  • Cardinal Archivists of the Vatican Secret Archives 6
    • Prefects of the Vatican Secret Archives 6.1
  • Other Holy See archives 7
  • See also 8
  • References 9
  • Further reading 10
  • External links 11


The use of the word "secret" in the title "Vatican Secret Archives" does not denote the modern meaning of confidentiality. Its meaning is closer to that of the word "private", indicating that the archives are the Pope's personal property, not belonging to those of any particular department of the Roman Curia or the Holy See. The word "secret" was generally used in this sense as also reflected in phrases such as "secret servants", "secret cupbearer", "secret carver" or "secretary", much like an esteemed position of honour and regard comparable to a VIP.[3]


The Vatican Secret Archives have been estimated to contain 85 kilometres (53 mi) of shelving,[4] and there are 35,000 volumes in the selective catalogue alone. "Indexes must be consulted in the Index Room and replaced in their original location. Publication of the indexes, in part or as a whole, is forbidden."[5] The Archives support their own photographic and conservation studios.

According to the website of the Archives, the oldest surviving document dates back to the end of the eighth century. "Transfers and political upheavals nearly caused the total loss of all the archival material preceding Innocent III."[6] From 1198 onwards, more complete archives exist, though documentation is scant before the 13th century. Since that time, the documentation includes items such as Henry VIII of England's request for a marriage annulment,[7] and letters from Michelangelo.


The entrance to the Archives, adjacent to the

  • Inquisition Requires Calm, Objective Analysis, EWTN Library, from L'Osservatore Romano, November 11, 1998. Address of Pope John Paul II to the participants of the International Symposium on the Inquisition at the Vatican, October 31, 1998. In attendance was the internationally renowned historian Carlo Ginzburg. In 1979, Ginzburg sent a letter to the then newly elected Pope John Paul II, asking that the archives of the Holy office (the Roman Inquisition) be opened. Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, credited Ginzburg, and his 1979 letter, as having been instrumental in the Vatican's decision to open these archives.
  • Vatican to Open Archives Tied to a Key Era in Germany, Zenit News Agency, October 29, 2002
  • Vatican to computerize archives from the Holy Office, Inquisition, Catholic World News, December 5, 2002.
  • Vatican 'dispels Inquisition myths', BBC News Online, June 15, 2004
  • John Paul II Letter on Inquisition Symposium, Zenit News Agency, June 15, 2004
  • Scrutinizing the Inquisition; an "exposé of the tortures and injustices committed by various national Inquisitions...", Zenit News Agency, June 24, 2004
  • Jewish group threatens to sue Vatican for access to archives, Catholic News Service, January 28, 2005
  • Vatican's secret archives now open to scholars, CathNews, September 19, 2006
  • New Insights into Vatican's Diplomacy "Documents from newly opened Vatican archives indicate...",, October 12, 2006
  • Religiosa Archivorum Custodia. IV centenario della fondazione dell'archivio segreto vaticano (1612-2012), Archivio segreto vaticano, 2012, Roma.

News articles

  • Vatican Secret Archive Official Web Site, including a history of the Secret Archives
  • The Vatican Palace, as a Scientific Institute, Catholic Encyclopedia
  • Roman Historical Institutes, Catholic Encyclopedia
  • Ecclesiastical Archives, Catholic Encyclopedia
  • Archives of the Holy See, New Catholic Dictionary, 1910 edition
  • University of Michigan Vatican Archives Project, a detailed history, description and catalogue of archives
  • Palazzo del Sant'Uffizio: The Opening of the Roman Inquisition's Central Archive by Anne Jacobson Schutte, Perspectives Online, Published by the American Historical Association, May 1999
  • Inside the Vatican, National Geographic, April 8, 2004
  • An interview with Sergio Pagano, prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, January 18, 2005. Sergio Pagano

External links

Ambrosini, Maria Luisa. The Secret Archives of the Vatican. Boston: Little, Brown, 1969 (republished 1996). ISBN 0-7607-0125-3
Pastor, Ludwig von. )The history of the popes, from the close of the Middle Ages: (drawn from the secret archives of the Vatican and other original sources. from WorldCat. Reprints: Periodicals Service Company (New York) and Schmidt Periodicals GmbH (Germany)
Borromeo, Agostino. L'inquisizione : atti del Simposio internazionale, Città del Vaticano ( The inquisition: actions of the international Symposium, Vatican City), Biblioteca apostolica vaticana, 2003. ISBN 88-210-0761-8

Further reading

  1. ^ See Pastor, History of the Popes, vol. III, 31.
  2. ^ Table of Admittances to the Vatican Secret Archives in the Last Years (Archived May 6, 2011 at the Wayback Machine)
  3. ^ The Title "Vatican Secret Archives"
  4. ^ [1]
  5. ^ Rules for Scholars
  6. ^ The Vatican Secret Archives: The Past, Vatican website
  7. ^ The Letter That Changed the Course of History
  8. ^ Storeroom of the new premises
  9. ^
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ Vatican Archivists Rush to Declassify WWII Documents, Catholic World News, February 20, 2002
  13. ^ Extract from the Bulletin of the Press Office of the Holy See, 30 June 2006
  14. ^ Lux in arcana exhibition website
  15. ^
  16. ^ The Archive of the Tribunal of the Apostolic Penitentiary


See also

There are other Holy See archives in Rome, since each department of the Roman Curia has its own archives. The word "secret" in its modern sense can be applied to some of the material kept by the Apostolic Penitentiary, when it concerns matters of the internal forum; but registers of the rescripts that it issued up to 1564 have been deposited in the Vatican Secret Archives and are open for consultation by qualified scholars. Half of these have already been put in digital form for easier consultation. The confidentiality of the material means that, in spite of the centuries that have passed since 1564, special rules apply to its publication.[16]

Other Holy See archives

  • Giuseppe Garampi (9 September 1751 – 27 January 1772)
  • Mario Zampini (1772–82)
  • Gaetano Marini (1782–1815)
  • Callisto Marini (1782–1822)
  • Marino Marini (1815–55)
  • Augustin Theiner, O.S.A. (6 December 1855 – June 1870)
  • Giuseppe Cardoni (8 June 1870 – March 1873)
  • Carlo Cristofori (14 April 1873 – 13 January 1877)
  • Francesco Rosi Bernardini (17 January 1877 – June 1879)
  • Joseph Hergenröther (9 June 1879 – 3 October 1890)
  • Agostino Ciasca, O.S.A. (13 June 1891 – July 1892)
  • Luigi Tripepi (19 September 1892 – May 1894)
  • Peter Wenzel (28 July 1894 – 24 May 1909)
  • Mariano Ugolini (29 May 1909 – June 1925)
  • Angelo Mercati (22 May 1925 – October 1955)
  • Martino Giusti (1955 – April 1984)
  • Josef Metzler, O.M.I. (24 May 1984 – 1996)
  • Sergio Pagano, B. (7 January 1997 – present)

Prefects of the Vatican Secret Archives

A list of the Cardinal Archivists is given on the website of the Archives:

Cardinal Archivists of the Vatican Secret Archives

To mark the 400th anniversary of the Vatican Archives, 100 original documents dating from the 8th to the 20th century were put on display from February to September 2012 in the "Lux in arcana – The Vatican Secret Archives reveals itself" exhibition held at the Capitoline Museums in Rome. They included the 1521 bull of excommunication of Martin Luther and a letter from Mary, Queen of Scots, written while awaiting her execution.[14][15]

2012 exhibition

  • 1817: Vatican Secret Archive brought back to the Vatican from France.[11]
  • 1883: Pope Leo XIII opened archives dated 1815 or earlier.
  • 1924: Documents up to the end of the pontificate of Gregory XVI (June 1, 1846) were released.
  • 1966: Documents from the pontificate of Pius IX (1846–78). (The opening of this material was originally planned during the pontificate of Pius XII.)
  • 1978: Documents from the pontificate of Leo XIII (1878–1903).
  • 1985: Documents from the pontificates of Pius X (1903–14) and Benedict XV (1914–22).
  • 2002 (effective from 2003): Documents from the historical archives of the Secretariat of State (Second Section) pertaining to the Holy See's relations with Germany during the pontificate of Pope Pius XI (1922–39). The reason for this exceptional action was "to put an end to unjust and thoughtless speculation."[12]
  • 2006: All documents from the pontificate of Pope Pius XI.[13]

Customarily, documents are made available to the public after a period of 75 years.

Opening of the archives

There are strict limitations to what archive users are able to view and access. For example, no materials dated after 1939 are available for public viewing.[9] Pope Francis is considering when to open the full archives of Pope Pius XII.[10]

Qualified scholars from institutions of higher education pursuing scientific researches, with an adequate knowledge of archival research, may apply for an entry card. Scholars need an introductory letter by either a recognized institute of research or by a suitably qualified person in the field of historical research. Applicants need to specify their personal data (name, address etc.) as well as the purpose of their research. Undergraduate students are not admitted.


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