The Vatican is possibly the most powerful single institution on the planet. As the spiritual head of the Catholic church, the Pope can claim to reach an audience of around 1.3 billion people, making Rupert Murdoch look like a soapbox ranter by comparison.
The Vatican’s reach is equaled only by its secrecy: a country unto itself, few know what secrets are hidden in the vast and subterranean archives said to run for miles beneath the Papal Palace in the heart of Rome. However from time to time rumors leak out, and strange stories surface of arcane devices and monstrous skeletons.
Whether any of these are true is very much a matter for debate, but nonetheless the rumors persist. Here are seven of the weirdest things said to be hidden away in the Vatican archives.
1. A “Chronovisor” that Took a Photo of the Crucifixion
Marcello Pellegrino Ernetti, a highly respected Roman Catholic priest, had some odd claims to make. Breaking the Vatican’s silence, he announced that he was a part of a team that had succeeded in inventing a time travel machine known as a “Chronovisor”.
Furthermore, he went on to state that he had witnessed the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. To support his claim, a photo was published showing Jesus on the cross. According to the claim, the image had been captured with the help of the Chronovisor.
It did not help the argument that the Chronovisor was real when it was proven that the supposed photo of the crucifixion was a fake. Instead, the image that Father Brune had used to support his claims regarding the time travel machine was nothing but a reversed picture of a postcard.
2. The Skeleton of the Pope’s Pet Elephant
From the ridiculous to the undoubtedly real: it has been confirmed that the Vatican is also holding on to the skeleton of an elephant. And not just any elephant, either: Pope Leo X’s private pet elephant, named Hanno.
Once considered a silly rumor, the story was unexpectedly proven true when in 1962 a group of Italian workers were digging up the Belvedere Courtyard of the Vatican to modernize a cooling and heating system. Under the flagstones they found the elephant’s final resting place.
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Later research revealed that King Manuel I of Portugal gifted Hanno to Pope Leo X. At that time, the leaders of Portugal were known for bringing foreign and exotic animals as gifts for Popes. Hanno became quite famous, and would also leave walk the city streets on festival days and other special occasions, to the delight of the public.
3. An Absolutely Enormous Amount of Porn
According to famous figures and the Copenhagen Museum of Erotica, the Vatican archives contain the largest collection of porn and other erotica ever assembled in one place. This might seem like a wild accusation for the supposedly celibate (and pure) men who live there, but there is a surprising amount of support for the story.
In 16th century Italy, an artist named Guilio Romano, from the school of Raphael (who definitely decorate large sections of the Papal Palace with his famous, non-pornographic frescos), was hired by Cardinal Bibbenio to paint 16 “private frescoes” in the Cardinal’s bathroom. The images were said to present 16 different sexual positions, a veritable Catholic Kama Sutra.
These paintings remain hidden to this day, but the sketches for them were instantly leaked and soon copies were circulating on the streets of Rome. Romano was imprisoned but it was too late: everyone knew what Bibbenio liked to look at as he relaxed in his bath.
4. The Essene Gospel of Peace
Of course, the Vatican has doubtlessly also retained an awful lot of non-pornographic literature as well, and you would hope that at least some of it was religious in nature. However it is also rumored that some of these documents are kept under lock and key because of the explosive implications for the Catholic Church.
One such document is the Essene Gospel of Peace, which was apparently written by the Jewish sect responsible for the Dead Sea Scrolls, which would mean it was composed very close to the life of Jesus himself. What makes the Essenes so interesting is that they are not mentioned at all in the Bible; as a result some have concluded that they are the Jews in the Bible, and that Jesus was one of them.
A Catholic bishop named Edmond Bordeaux Szekely, who first found the manuscript at the Vatican, claimed that the gospel proved that Jesus was a vegetarian. But since Szekely was himself an extremely strict vegetarian and since there is no record of his supposed visit to the Vatican, most people think he made it all up.
5. Jesus’s Family Life and Descendants
One of the most frustrating things about the accounts of the life of Jesus which survive in the Gospels of the New Testament is that they miss out most of his life. We know of his birth, and we know of his final years and death. But we know almost nothing of his life in between.
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Such documents do exist outside the Vatican’s archives, but they are entirely dismissed by the Vatican itself. Texts like the Infancy Gospel of Thomas, which talks of how difficult it is to parent the Son of God, are firmly considered non-canonical. But these are just the ones that are generally known.
Many suspect that the Vatican has other documents which tell of Jesus’s early life, but which are kept secret by the Vatican due to the explosive impact they would have on Church orthodoxy. Dids Jesus have a family? Descendants? Maybe the Vatican knows, and maybe they are keeping it secret.
The Vatican is weirdly OK with the idea of extraterrestrial life for a church which believes God took a single morning to make the universe and then five and a half more days to get the Earth right. The Catholic Church holds conferences and sponsors research into the possibility of aliens, which leads to the question: do they know something we don’t?
The theory goes that the Vatican learned of the existence of aliens through uncovering artifacts hidden in the great pyramids of Giza. Further, it is suggested that the knowledge held at the Vatican allows one to understand these pyramids in a new light, and potentially even harness them for some extraterrestrial purpose.
Proponents of this theory point out that both Napoleon and Hitler, after gaining access to the Vatican’s secrets, heading straight to the pyramids immediately after: Napoleon even chanced his entire army on the expedition and stranded himself in north Africa in the process. Whatever they found there however remains a mystery.
7. Literally Lucifer Himself
Pretty big, this one. Does the Vatican have the fallen angel Lucifer, Satan, the Devil, the Big Bad himself hidden in some (literally) hellish dungeon deep beneath the Papal Palace?
Father Gabriele Amorth, the most senior exorcist in the Vatican hierarchy, has been responsible for tens of thousands of exorcisms: it is believed that nobody had spoken directly to the devil more than him. So, when in 2010 he claimed that Satan was actually in the Vatican, people paid attention.
So far, so metaphor, as you might think but he meant this literally. Amorth had seen the Catholic Church’s fall from grace amid scandal after scandal and, more familiar with the works of Satan than anyone else, he had recognized the work of Lucifer. Was he right? Only the Vatican knows for sure.
Top Image: From the diabolical to the profane: many strange secrets are rumored to be hidden in the Vatican archives. Source: Krzysztof Golik / CC BY-SA 4.0.
By Joseph Green