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Vatican unlocks its secret archives
Artifacts include a bill from Michelangelo
Published On Sun Jan 3 2010
A limited edition hand-stitched copy of the book costs $8,400.
It's as pretty a description of Ontario as ever was writ, inscribed on birch bark and sent more than 100 years ago to Pope Leo XIII in the Vatican.
Dated "where there is much grass, in the month of the flowers" – another way of saying "Grassy Lake, May 21," the letter written by the Ojibway Indians in 1887 thanks the head of the Roman Catholic church, "the Grand Master of Prayer," for providing Ojibways of the Espanola area in northern Ontario with a "custodian of prayer," as they described the bishop sent to preach to them.
That piece of birch bark now rests deep beneath the streets of Rome, one of the hundreds of thousands of historical gems housed along the 84 kilometres of shelving that comprise the Vatican's Secret Archives, a treasure trove of correspondence between the great and the infamous of the past 1,200 years.
And now that Ojibway letter has been plucked from the obscurity of history and comparative secrecy of the archives to join 104 other timeless treasures that helped shape and form the world we live in, published for the first time in The Vatican Secret Archives, a 252-page book lavishly illustrated with 344 colour photos and modern interpretations.
The book, $87.23 at Amazon.ca Saturday (but temporarily out of stock), is being published in English, French, Italian and Dutch editions.
And for the truly obsessive collector, there's a limited edition available for $8,400. Only 33 copies will be printed on felt and hand-stitched, and three are already reserved – one for Pope Benedict XVI, one for the Vatican Library and one for, what else, the Vatican Secret Archives.
The original letters, whether written on parchment, silk or birch bark, are reproduced in exquisite detail, and a modern commentary accompanies each document.