The U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, Callista L. Gingrich, returned a recovered copy of a letter written by Christopher Columbus to its rightful home at the Vatican Library today Thursday, June 14, at 11:00 a.m.
This act was confirmed in Tweets of the official Italian and English sites of the Vatican Library, which stated: “U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, @CallyGingrich, returned this morning a recovered copy of a letter written by Christopher Columbus to its rightful home at the Vatican Library. @USinHolySee
Ambassador Gingrich, along with representatives of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) presented 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 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.