Grzegorz Górny, Janusz Rosikoń
Vatican Secret Archives

A richly illustrated story about unknown pages of Catholic Church history

It was September 13, 2001. People throughout the world were still living the events that had occurred two days earlier, when Islamic terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York City. Barbara Frale, however, an Italian mediaevalist, had other matters on her mind, as she was carrying out an investigative search at the Vatican Secret Archives. She was poring over registers of Avignon documents from the time of Benedict XII, whose pontificate was from 1334 to 1342. She came across a parchment that was catalogued as a protocol of one of the many French Inquisition investigations in the diocese of Tours. She would probably not have paid much attention to it had she not noticed a name that was familiar to her: Bérenger Fredoli.

Frale was very familiar with this man’s biography. She immediately realised that she had no ordinary docu- ment before her. Bérenger Fredoli was one of the most influential Catholic hierarchs of the early 14th century: a French cardinal, the most outstanding canonist of his time, and a trusted associate – even nephew – of Pope Clement V, who sent him to various corners of the world on particularly delicate missions. What could such a per- son have possibly done during interrogations carried out by some provincial inquisitor in the diocese of Tours?

Frale looked at the bottom of the document. There were three seals on the parchment: one from Fredoli and two from other cardinals, Étienne de Suisy and Landolfo Brancaccio. Frale could not believe her eyes. She realised that she had found a seven- hundred-year-old document that historians had regarded as irretrievably lost, since it had been mistakenly catalogued in 1628 and again in 1912. It shed new light on the most notorious trial of the Middle Ages, particularly on the attitude of Pope Clement V, who, together with King Philip the Fair of France, was generally regarded as the main culprit in the dissolution of the Knights Templar and the execution of its leaders.

French historians certainly did not encounter this parchment at the beginning of the 19th century, when Napoleon had the Vatican Secret Archives transported to Paris. Enlightenment anticlerical officials were particularly interested in the catalogues pertaining to the Knights Templar trial and the trial of Galileo Galilei. They expected to find confirmation of facts that would set the Holy See in an unfavourable light. The French kept the files on the Knights Templar trial even after the fall of Napoleon, the restoration of the monarchy, and a decree to return all documents to the Vatican, as they still hoped to find material compromising the papacy. Fr. Marino Marini, the chamberlain of the prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, persuaded them to return the f iles, telling them that the publication of the complete dossier would tarnish not Pope Clement’s image, but King Philip’s.

Was Fr. Marino Marini bluffing in order to regain the files? The answer became evident when Bishop Sergio Pagano, the prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives, presented an over three-hundred-page publication, Processus Contra Templarios, at the Vatican Palace’s Aula Vecchia del Sinodo on 25 October, 2007. The publication contained the most important material concerning the Templars’ trial, including the Chinon Parchment, discovered by Barbara Frale.

Excerpt translated by Stan Kacsprzak

Grzegorz Górny, Janusz Rosikoń
Vatican Secret Archives

A richly illustrated story about unknown pages of Catholic Church history

Publisher: Rosikon Press, Warszawa 2020
Translation rights: Rosikon Press,,
Foreign language translations: Slovenia, USA (Tajne archiwum watykańskie); other works by Górny and Rosikoń have been published in Bulgaria, Croatia, Hungary, Italy, and Spain

‘There is no running away from history. It shapes our reality, and as time goes by, we become a part of it ourselves,’ this is how very seriously two Polish authors, a writer and a photographer, start their richly illustrated story about the Vatican archives. They are secret in name only, but not really, as the authors actually visited there. They were secret over a period of over a dozen centuries, when they accumulated large numbers of parchments, papyri, and later, paper documents. Generations of historians will make truly epoch-making discoveries there for a long time to come.

These discoveries, well described in this book by Grzegorz Górny and Janusz Rosikoń, are fascinating, though they often run counter to popular ideas about the “secrets of the Vatican”. The stereotypical views of the millions who consume mass culture are shaped by pop culture films. And these are often echoes of religious conflicts from centuries ago, when Protestants vilified the “papists”. In today’s world where it has rightly been recognised that prejudice and false stereotypes are a source of conflict and unnecessary confrontation, real knowledge is a preventive treatment for this kind of misfortune.

One can learn from Górny and Rosikoń’s book how many falsehoods and stereotypes have been wrapped around the history of events such as the Crusades, the trials of the Templars and Galileo, the Inquisition, and the Conquista. There are also more recent matters, which constantly arouse great emotions: the French Revolution, the Spanish Civil War, and the attitude of Pope Pius XII toward the Holocaust.

In addition, this book is a pleasant remedy, because it is interestingly written and beautifully illustrated. The Vatican is one of the few places on the planet where for several centuries people could continuously accumulate the products of their minds and hands. And although wars did not bypass Rome, the institutional continuity of the Catholic Church saved a great number of works of human genius.

Piotr Gursztyn

Translated by Peter Obst

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