Vatican Secret Archives: 6 of the most intriguing documents in church history

One hundred documents held in the Vatican’s Secret Archives are now on display in Rome for the first time. Read our list here of six standouts.

Letter from a Chinese empress

Daniele Fregonese-Vatican Secret Archives/Reuters
A letter to Innocent X written on silk by Helena of China is seen in this undated photo.

One of the few documents from Asia is a letter written on silk in 1650 by a Chinese empress who pledged her allegiance to Catholicism after being converted by Jesuit priests.

The letter, rolled up in a bamboo scroll, was sent to Pope Innocent X by the Empress Dowager Wang, who adopted the Christian name Helena. She gave her adopted son, Yongli, the name Constantine, after the Roman emperor who embraced Christianity.

The letter, written in Chinese script, was delivered to Rome in a bamboo tube inscribed with the image of a black dragon. It bears an imperial red “chop,” or seal.

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