The present Pope, back in the days when he was plain Cardinal Ratzinger, authorised the opening of one section of the archive in 1998. To great surprise in some quarters – and less surprise in others – these documents revealed that the Inquisition hadn’t really been such a bloody business after all.
The Catholic Church had executed a mere one per cent of the alleged heretics they put on trial.
To his surprise he received word back that highly placed sources within the Vatican had been impressed with The Most Beautiful Wine Cellars in the World.
As a result, he was told, his proposal might be given the go-ahead.
There are also letters from Elizabeth I, Mary Queen of Scots, St Bernadette, Voltaire and Abraham Lincoln.
It’s at this point that the keen conspiracy theorist throws up his or her hands and exclaims ‘Ha! What a coincidence that this should also cover the most sensitive periods in recent Vatican history: the Second World War and the continuing scandal of paedophile priests. Nine years ago, a joint plan by Jewish and Roman Catholic scholars ended amid acrimony with the Vatican refusing to allow the Jewish scholars further access to its archives – and the Jewish scholars protesting that the Vatican was plainly trying to cover something up.
Up the staircase he goes, past barred windows and tiny panelled chambers in which black-soutaned figures sit reading by the light of hushed lamps, to the very top of the 73m-tall tower.
This is the Tower of the Winds, built by Ottavinao Mascherino between 15, a place to which mere members of the public are never normally admitted.
This came after a report that said the documents examined ‘did not put to rest significant questions about the Holocaust’.
However, one should also remember that the Vatican has recently released a number of wartime documents, which, they say, help to prove that Pope Pius XII, far from being a Nazi-sympathising anti-Semite – as his detractors claim – was in fact working behind the scenes trying to help the Jews.No, the real reason for this lies elsewhere in the Tower of Winds, in rooms lined with miles and miles of dark wooden shelves – more than 50 miles of them in fact.