A Christopher Columbus letter that was stolen from the Vatican Library has been returned thanks to the efforts of U.S. and Vatican investigators.
The 1493 letter was described as “a priceless piece of cultural history” by Callista Gingrich, the U.S. Ambassador to the Holy See, during a handover ceremony in Vatican City on Thursday. The letter’s repatriation follows a seven-year investigation by officials and law enforcement in the U.S. and the Vatican.
Gingrich presented the historic letter to chief Vatican archivist, Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues, and the prefect of the library, Bishop Cesare Pasini.
Callista Gingrich is the wife of former Speaker of the House and current Fox News contributor Newt Gingrich.
Reuters reports that the letter is a printed Latin translation of a letter written in Spanish by Columbus announcing the discovery of the New World. Printed in Rome in 1493, the 8-page “Columbus letter” eventually made its way into the Vatican library, according to Reuters. At some point, however, the letter, which is reportedly worth about $1.2 million according to officials, was stolen and replaced with a forgery.
It's the third such return in recent years after U.S. investigators determined that several authentic copies of the letter had been stolen from libraries across Europe and replaced with forgeries without library officials' knowledge. “Previous letters were returned to their rightful homes in Florence and Barcelona,” explained Gingrich.
The authentic letter had ended up in the possession of an Atlanta actuary who purchased it from a rare book dealer in New York in 2004, unaware it had been taken from the Vatican. His widow returned it.
Several 15th-century Latin copies of Columbus’ original letter were made to spread the news of Columbus’ discovery around the courts of Europe and the papacy, according to Reuters.
Gingrich said that, since 2007, Homeland Security Investigations agents have returned over 11,000 artifacts and works of art to over 30 countries.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.
Follow James Rogers on Twitter @jamesjrogers