Vatican Apostolic Archives

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From the Cortile del Belvedere , the left entrance in the cross wing leads to the archive, the right to the library

The Vatican Apostolic Archive ( Latin Archivum Apostolicum Vaticanum , Italian Archivio Apostolico Vaticano , abbreviation: AAV ; until October 2019 Vatican Secret Archives , Latin Archivum Secretum Apostolicum Vaticanum , Italian Archivio Segreto Vaticano , abbreviation: ASV ) is the central collection point for everyone from the Holy See promulgated laws and the diplomatic correspondence of the Vatican .


The expression "secret archive" as a translation of the Latin name archivium secretum, which was official until 2019, was misleading, because the term refers to the personal archive of the Pope as distinct from the archives of church authorities. With the Motu Proprio L'esperienza storica (The Historical Experience) of October 28, 2019, the Vatican Secret Archives were renamed "Vatican Apostolic Archives"; The colloquial term “secret archive” has been retained beyond that.

History and holdings

The archive comprises approx. 85 kilometers of shelves for files. The (incompletely) inventoried holdings of the archive alone count 35,000 volumes. "Jewels" of the archive are letters from Michelangelo , a letter from Henry VIII with the request to annul his marriage, the entry of the bull " Exsurge Domine " against Martin Luther or the original register of Pope Gregory VII with the " Dictatus papae ".

The occasional mediaeval news about papal archives do not yet reveal any systematic organization; the documents issued by secular rulers for the popes were kept in connection with the papal treasure. Sixtus IV , who can also be considered the founder of the library , had these privileges and other documents important for the rights and claims of the Holy See summarized in the Castel Sant'Angelo archive ( Archivum Arcis , also known as Archivum vetus ). Pius IV already had plans for a central archive for the Curia, but it was not until the beginning of the 17th century that the archive under Paul V was separated from the Vatican Library as a separate organizational unit and with holdings from the archive of the Apostolic Chamber, which was the most extensive at the time a papal authority, and expanded from the Castel Sant'Angelo archive. The Pope entrusted his Cardinal Nepot Scipione Borghese Caffarelli with the management , while Michele Lonigo took care of the organization . In 1798 the Castel Sant'Angelo Archives were merged with the Vatican Archives, after having been headed by the Archival Prefect in personal union for decades.

In 1810 Napoleon ordered the archive to be transferred to Paris , and after it was returned from 1815–1817, serious losses were found. The Roman Republic of 1849, however, hardly affected the archive.

Until the late 19th century, the holdings were largely kept under lock and key, which repeatedly encouraged wild speculation about the documents stored there. However, since the beginning of the 17th century scientists from all over the world have been able to view individual archival documents upon request.

The German historian Ludwig von Pastor was the first to be given a comprehensive insight into the holdings of the archive . For his history of the popes since the end of the Middle Ages he had to rely on consulting the Vatican secret archives. It is true that under Pius IX. Cardinal Jean-Baptiste Pitra presented a plan to open the archive to science, but the liberalization of access is thanks to Leo XIII. , who in 1879 appointed Josef Hergenröther prefect and archivist of the Apostolic See ( praeses Vaticani tabularii sive archivista apostolicae sedis ). This interrupted the traditional connection between library and archive.Only with Cardinal Gasquet , who was appointed Archivista della Santa Sede in 1917 , Bibliotecario di Santa Romana Chiesa in 1919, and again Archivista di SRC in 1920 , were these offices reunited and retained in future. In January 1881 the archive was opened to users, and in 1884 the usage regulations ( regolamento ) were further liberalized. Today, scientists are given unbureaucratic access if they submit a letter of recommendation from a research institution (e.g. university or scientific institute).

The archives keep their files until 1922, the end of the pontificate of Benedict XV. , in front. On February 20, 2002, Pope John Paul II released the documents of the State Secretariat from the period from 1922 to 1939 - but only insofar as they concern the German Reich - for research. By order of Pope Benedict XVI. Since September 18, 2006, all documents of the pontificate of Pope Pius XI. Visible to scientists until his death in 1939. It is expected that the cataloging of the approx. 16 million pages from the tenure of Pius XII. Will be completed in 2014 or 2015. In March 2019, Pope Francis announced that from 2020 all documents in the Vatican Archives will be accessible to scholars until 1945. These holdings were opened on March 2, 2020.

In 1968 the Vatican School of Paleography, Diplomatics and Archival Studies was incorporated into the Vatican Secret Archives.

Cardinal librarians

The cardinal librarians were also archivists of the Holy Roman Church since 1609.

Important archivists

The curators, later the prefects, were the actual directors of the archive.


  • Karl August Fink : The Vatican Archives: Introduction to the holdings and their research , Regenberg Rome 1943; 2nd increased edition 1951
  • Maria Luisa Ambrosini: The Vatican's Secret Archives. Kösel, Munich 1974, ISBN 3-466-10012-7
  • Francis X. Blouin: Vatican Archives - an inventory and guide to historical documents of the Holy See. Oxford Univ. Pr., New York 1998, ISBN 0-19-509552-9
  • Michael Matheus , Hubert Wolf (ed.): Does the Vatican Secret Archives keep a lot too secret? Historical basic research in the Middle Ages and modern times. Contribution to the section of the German Historical Institute (DHI) Rome, organized in conjunction with the Westphalian Wilhelms University of Münster, seminar for Middle and New Church History. 47th German Historians' Day, Dresden September 30 - October 3, 2008, Rome 2009. PDF (793 kb)

Web links

Commons : Vatican Secret Archives  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. SWR Aktuell: "Vatican Secret Archives" is renamed. In: October 28, 2019, accessed December 13, 2019 .
  2. ^ Pope renames the Vatican Secret Archives - Vatican News. In: October 28, 2019, accessed December 13, 2019 . ; Official text
  3. Rough overview of the holdings on the website of the secret archive , but currently without quantitative information. The PDF document linked there with the complete holdings, including those that are not yet accessible, only contains bibliography and archival aids, no figures.
  4. Franz Ehrle: On the history of the treasure, the library and the archives of the popes in the fourteenth century- In: Archive for Literature and Church History of the Middle Ages 1, 1885, pp. 1-48, 228-364, here especially p. 41 -48, 286-364.
  5. ^ Fink: The Vatican Archives, p. 2.
  6. ^ Fink: The Vatican Archives, p. 3.
  7. ^ Fink: The Vatican Archives p. 3 with note 4.
  8. Fink: The Vatican Archives, pp. 4-6.
  9. The Holy See in the Era of Totalitarianism Neue Zürcher Zeitung, September 2, 2006 (accessed March 17, 2019)
  10. Vatican - Angels and Demons Der Spiegel, October 9, 2006 (accessed December 21, 2009)
  11. ^ Secret Archives from Pius XII's time to be organized by 2015 - Catholic News Agency - January 29, 2010, accessed October 21, 2010 .
  12. ^ Deutsche Welle: Franziskus releases secret archives , accessed on March 4, 2019
  13. ^ Study day on the opening of the archives of Pope Pius XII., January 21, 2020, accessed January 22, 2020.
  14. ^ List at the Vatican Archives , partly linked to biographical articles from the Dizionario biografico degli Italiani .
  15. Overview at the Vatican Archives , partly with the adoption of the articles from the Dizionario biografico degli Italiani