The United States is returning to the Vatican Library a letter written by Christopher Columbus in 1493 announcing his discovery of the New World, which was stolen and replaced with a forgery.
The Columbus Letter, as it is known, was addressed to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain, who funded his exploration.
The letter is an account of the explorer’s discovery of America, and he informs the Spanish monarchs of their new claims in Cuba and Santo Domingo.
“I discovered many islands inhabited by numerous people,” he wrote.
“I took possession of all of them for our most fortunate King by making public proclamation and unfurling his standard, no one making any resistance.
“All these island are very beautiful, and of quite different shapes; easy to be traversed, and full of the greatest variety of trees reaching to the stars.”
The letter was translated into Latin, and several copies were distributed throughout Europe.
One of these copies was sent to the Vatican in 1921, the US embassy to the Vatican said.
But the US department of homeland security discovered the copy held in the Vatican was a fake.
They then contacted Robert Parsons, an actuary living in Atlanta, who had purchased the original letter from a rare book dealer in 2004 – unaware that it had been taken from the Vatican.
Parsons’ widow, Mary Parsons, decided to return the letter to the Vatican and relinquish her rights to it.
The letter was on Thursday presented to the Vatican by Callista Gingrich, ambassador to the Holy See. She handed it over to chief Vatican archivist, Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues, and the prefect of the library, Bishop Cesare Pasini.
The ceremony marks the third such return in recent years, after US investigators determined that several authentic copies of the letter had been stolen from libraries across Europe and replaced with forgeries, without library officials’ knowledge.
In May 2016 the US returned another copy of the letter to Italy, having found that they kept the original in the library of Congress, and it had been stolen from a Florence library.