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Vatican Releases Tantalizing Glimpse into Papal Documents About Columbus

The Vatican is releasing tantalizing fragments of documents to be displayed next year, among them the papal Inter Caetera bull awarding the lands that Columbus landed upon to Spain.

As enigmatic as the Da Vinci Code, the website showcasing fragments of documents from the upcoming exhibit of the Vatican Secret Archives presents the explorer with a sort of puzzle. As the cursor moves over each image, the ones that are available for viewing light up.

Clicking on one of the images will reveal a description of the papal Inter Caetera bull, which granted Spain ownership of the lands “discovered” by Christopher Columbus. The description and image went online on October 12 to coincide with the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the so-called New World.

The exhibition, to run from February through September 2012, will be in the Capitoline Museum in Rome and consist of 100 “original and priceless documents,” according to a Vatican press release. It will aim to explain and describe the papal archives by sharing some of them with the public. The archives span 13 centuries, from the eighth through the 20th, and take up more than 50 miles of shelving in a two-story vault underneath the Vatican Museums.

On August 3, 1492, Columbus and his fleet—the famed Niña, Pinta and the Santa Maria—left Palos, Spain, and sailed west for 69 days, arriving in the New World on September 8. The rest, as they say, is history.

In 1493 the papal document was issued, referring directly to Columbus’s mission and calling him a “man assuredly worthy and of the highest recommendations and fitted for so great an undertaking, ” commissioned as he was by the Spanish monarchs to “make quest for these remote and unknown mainlands and islands, where hitherto no one had sailed, not without the greatest hardships and dangers,” the site says.

“It is part of the history of the colonization of the Americas that gave rise to a series of problems whose consequences would be felt over time,” said Luca Carboni, secretary general of the archives, to The New York Times.