Vatican Employee Arrested After Allegedly Stealing Centuries Old Manuscript

A former Vatican employee was arrested after he allegedly stole a 17th-century manuscript that was previously reported as missing, attempting to sell the work for over one hundred thousand euros.

A Missing Manuscript

The alleged thief, Alfio Maria Daniele Pergolizzi, was the head of communications for Fabbrica di San Pietro (the Fabric of Saint Peter), an organization charged with the maintenance of Saint Peter’s Basilica, from 1995–2011 and was arrested on May 27th. Pergolizzi’s lawyer has denied the charges, claiming that the manuscript his client attempted to sell was different from the missing manuscript. Pergolizzi claims the manuscript he attempted to sell was given to him from a private collection, while Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, the archpriest of Saint Peter’s Basilica, has claimed the piece was stolen from the archives of the Fabbrica di San Pietro.

In the arrest warrant, the Vatican referred to the missing manuscript, which Pergolizzi is thought to have stolen, as “a manuscript titled ‘Little Book of Gold,’” stating that the missing manuscript contained 16 numbered pages. Pergolizzi’s lawyer claims that this description does not fit that of the manuscript seized by authorities in the sting operation, stating that this manuscript is titled “Oro messo nelli bronzi” (gold placed in the bronzes) and has 36 pages that are not numbered.

The defendant’s lawyer continued, claiming that Pergolizzi was gifted the manuscript by Monsignor Vittorino Canciani, who was a canon of St. Peter’s Basilica, after the Monsignor originally asked Pergolizzi to verify the authenticity of the manuscript. Due to the manuscript being a gift, the defense claimed that Pergolizzi never attained a certificate proving his ownership over the piece. Canciani passed away in 2014, making authenticating the defense’s claims difficult.

Pergolizzi’s lawyer further stated that the manuscript was originally given to Pope Urban VIII, who added the piece to his private collection, separating the manuscript from the Fabbrica’s own collection. Following the death of Pope Urban, the defense theorized that the manuscript passed to the late Pope’s family, the Barberini, before finding its way to Canciani in later years.

The prosecution claims the manuscript was purchased in 1879 to be added to the Fabbrica’s collection prior to its disappearance in 1994. They continued, claiming that Pergolizzi had contacted the Fabbrica, asking if they had any documents regarding the “little book of gold.”

Pergolizzi was caught after he attempted to sell the piece back to the Vatican, culminating in the suspected thief’s arrest as the purchase was a part of a sting operation. Cardinal Gambetti, who facilitated the staged transaction, reportedly wrote a check to Pergolizzi for 120,000 euros (130,700 USD). After Pergolizzi accepted the check, he was promptly arrested by Vatican authorities.

Trent Barr
Trent Barr
Trent Barr is an Intelligence Analyst for Atlas News. He has years of experience and is trained in open source intelligence gathering. Trent Barr specializes in Latin American, German, and Vatican affairs while also holding an interest in Europe as a whole.

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