Vatican receives ransom demand for stolen Michelangelo notes

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VATICAN CITY (CNS) - A top Vatican official received a ransom demand for the return of Renaissance-era documents by the artist Michelangelo.

Cardinal Angelo Comastri, archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica, "received a proposal to recover such documents at a certain price," said Jesuit Father Federico Lombardi, Vatican spokesman.

"Naturally he refused as it concerned stolen documents," the spokesman said in a written statement March 8.

Michelangelo, best known for his frescoes in the Sistine Chapel, had dedicated nearly the last two decades of his life, 1546-1564, to being the head architect of St. Peter's Basilica, whose construction began in 1506 and was completed in 1620.

More than 10,000 pieces of parchment, documents, slips and scraps of paper connected with the planning, design and building of the basilica are kept in the archives of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, the office responsible for physical care and maintenance of St. Peter's Basilica.

Michelangelo, Donato Bramante, Raphael, Carlo Maderno, Gian Lorenzo Bernini and Francesco Borromini's surviving handwritten notes, instructions, reports and requests are all housed in the archives.

The Italian newspaper, Il Messaggero, reported that Cardinal Comastri, who is also the Fabbrica's president, recently received an unexpected visit from a former employee of the Fabbrica. The unnamed visitor reportedly informed the cardinal that a letter written by Michelangelo was missing from the archives and the visitor knew where it was, adding that it would cost about 100,000 euros ($108,600) to proceed.

Father Lombardi said that in 1997 the Fabbrica's head archivist had reported two documents were missing: a letter written by Michelangelo and a document with his signature.

The spokesman said the Vatican police were in contact with the Italian police to investigate further.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2015