when in rome

Working with the city of Rome, the Vatican Secret Archives – how’s that for an unprepossessing name? – is celebrating its 400th anniversary with an exhibit designed to shed light not only on its vast holdings but on some of the myth and mystery surrounding the collection, which was the subject of Dan Brown’s post-Da Vinci Code blockbuster Angels and Demons. “Lux in Arcana: The Vatican Secret Archives Reveals Itself” is at the Capitoline Museum until Sept. 9.

The secret – or, more accurately, “private” – archives were founded by Pope Paul V in 1612. Since 1881, they have been open only to scholars conducting research. Officials at the Archives point out that many of the original manuscripts, codices, and ancient parchments on display are outside the walls of the Vatican for the first time in history. Highlights include documents that describe the inquisition of Galileo Galilei, the case against the Knights Templar, and the order for Martin Luther’s excommunication. Also featured is a parchment in Latin with the seal of 83 English Lords seeking to annul the marriage of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. (His failure to obtain Papal approval ultimately led to the Reformation in Britain.)

As always when in Rome, do as the Romans do and avoid the crowds. A private tour of the exhibit can be tailor-made in conjunction with a stay at Rocco Forte’s fashionable Hotel de Russie, just off the Spanish Steps. Or get preferential access with the hotel’s Lux in Arcana package, which includes exhibition tickets, an overnight stay and the power to jump the line – Papal dispensation not required .

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