Vatican arrests ex-employee for attempted extortion using allegedly stolen Bernini manuscript

baldacchino Bernini's famous baldacchino in St. Peter's Basilica. | Credit: Ricardo André Frantz|Wikipedia|CC BY-SA 3.0

The Vatican arrested a former employee in late May for attempted extortion after he sold an allegedly stolen 17th-century manuscript to the Vatican for hundreds of thousands of euros.

According to the Italian newspaper Domani, which broke the news June 6, the art historian and former Vatican employee was questioned and arrested by Vatican gendarmes on May 27 after being handed a check by Vatican Cardinal Mauro Gambetti for 120,000 euros (about $130,000) for the sale of the manuscript.

Alfio Maria Daniele Pergolizzi, who was head of communications for the Fabbrica di San Pietro from 1995–2011, is currently sitting in a Vatican jail after being charged with extortion, fraud, and possession of stolen goods.

The manuscript Pergolizzi attempted to sell to the Vatican dates to 1633 and was written by collaborators of the sculptor Gian Lorenzo Bernini. The document, which has 36 sheets and 49 drawings, details the amount of gold Bernini needed to decorate the baldachin of St. Peter’s Basilica, according to Domani.

The manuscript was reproduced in a book published in 2021 by a scholar of the baldachin.

Domani reported that the provenance of the allegedly stolen manuscript is currently contested. Gambetti, the archpriest of St. Peter’s Basilica, says it was taken from the archives of the Fabbrica di San Pietro, while Pergolizzi maintains it was given to him from a private collection.

The author of the 2021 book, Maria Grazia D’Amelio, a professor of architectural history at Tor Vergata University in Rome, also claims the manuscript was not in the Fabbrica archives when she was preparing her volume and that she had only ever seen a scanned copy, given to her by Pergolizzi, and never the original.

According to Vatican News, the Vatican prosecutor’s office announced the arrest after it was made public by Domani.

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