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Capitoline Museum presents Lux in arcana. The Vatican Secret Archive reveals itself

The Capitoline Museum presents Lux in arcana. The Vatican Secret Archive reveals itself, an exhibition on view through 9 September 2012.

For the first and possibly only time in history, one hundred original and priceless documents selected among the treasures preserved and cherished by the Vatican Secret Archives for centuriesy leave the Vatican City walls. And they will do so in order to be housed and displayed in the beautiful halls of the Capitoline Museums in Rome.

The exhibition which is conceived for the 4th Centenary of the foundation of the Vatican Secret Archives aims at explaining and describing what the Pope’s archives are and how they work and, at the same time, at making the invisible visible, thus allowing access to some of the marvels enshrined in the Vatican Secret Archives’ 85 linear kilometers of shelving; records of an extraordinary historical value, covering a time-span that stretches from the 8th to the 20th century.

The name, Lux in arcana, conveys the exhibition’s main objective: the light piercing through the Archive’s innermost depths enlightens a reality which precludes a superficial knowledge and is only enjoyable by means of direct and concrete contact with the sources from the Archive, that opens the doors to the discovery of often unpublished history recounted in documents. The exhibition is enriched by multimedia installations, guided by an intriguing but rigorous historical narration, to allow the visitor to experience some famous events from the past and to “re-live” the documents, that will come to life with tales of the context and the people involved.

A screen next to each showcase gives a brief description of the exhibit. Moving texts and images frame the document in its historical period and create links among various information levels, revealing the document’s unusual features and its unseen background. You can also download these contents free on iOS and Android devices and continue to discover Lux in Arcana even when you have left the exhibition. The Lux in arcana official App – powered by Accenture – is available free of charge for iOS and Android devices. Download it before coming to the show and use it to discover more about the documents on display. Immerse yourself in history’s absorbing atmospheres and take advantage of all the contents available in the videos that accompany the documents. The exhibition’s official site – – is full of interesting stories about the people concerned in the documents on display, behind-the scenes facts and “curiosities” about the Vatican Secret Archives and everything that revolves around the world of ancient documents, plus a great many photos, anecdotes and the small secrets of the archivists’ profession.

100 original documents from the Vatican Secret Archives cast light on 12 centuries of history. An unprecedented cultural and media event: 100 original documents, preserved for 400 years in the papal Archives, have crossed the boundaries of Vatican City for the first time ever, in order to be put on display at the Capitoline Museums in Rome, from February 29 to September 9, 2012, in an exhibition called Lux in arcana: The Vatican Secret Archives reveals itself. Conclaves, heresies, popes and emperors. Crusades, excommunications, ciphered letters. Manuscripts, codices, ancient parchments. A unique and unrepeatable event that recounts history through its sources.

The exhibition starts with the section called The Guardian of Memory, which presents a selection of documents representative of the contents of the Vatican Secret Archives: diplomas and edicts, bulls and letters, papal briefs and registers, codices and trial records, formularies and codebooks that span twelve centuries of history, from the eighth century to the twentieth. They are written on different supports – paper, silk, bark, parchment – and come from different continents: Asia, Africa, America, Europe. The exhibition layout continues in the other halls of Palazzo dei Conservatori, grouped in seven thematic sections, and in Palazzo Clementino- Caffarelli, with the section called Inside the Vatican Secret Archives. On display here are documents with seals affixed and others related to World War II. There are also videos that describe the activities carried out to protect and enhance the Vatican Secret Archives’ documentary patrimony. The Vatican Secret Archive is the Holy See’s central archive. It is called “secret”, from the Latin secretum, meaning private”, because it is the pope’s private archive. It was founded by pope Paul V in 1612, hence this year it is celebrating its fourth centenary. Its 85 kilometres of shelves installed in historic halls and uderground storerooms contain 650 archival funds and 30,000 parchments: millions of documents spanning the period from the eighth century A.D. to the present. In 1881, pope Leo XIII opened the Vatican Secret Archives to scholars, regardless of their nationality or religion. From then on, researchers have worked in the Archives’ study rooms every day. –

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