The U.S. on Thursday returned a stolen copy of a 500-year-old letter by Italian explorer, Christopher Columbus, about his discovery of America to the Vatican Library.
US Ambassador Callista Gingrich presented the letter to the chief Vatican archivist, Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues, and the prefect of the library, Bishop Cesare Pasini, at a ceremony in the Vatican library.
The letter describes the explorer's 1493 account of his discoveries, addressed to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. But only about 80 copies of all editions have survived, and one went to the Vatican Library in 1921.
U.S. investigators had learned that several manually printed copies of the letter had been stolen from European libraries.
The US embassy statement says that in 2011, HSI was contacted by an expert in rare manuscripts who said the letter in the Vatican's possession was a forgery, used as a replacement in a robbery.
The Vatican was notified of the forgery and confirmed by experts, while the original was traced to an actuary from the southern USA city of Atlanta, Robert Parsons.
Brugues told diplomats and U.S. officials at the handover ceremony that the Vatican doesn't know when the swap out occurred, but that the forging technique used was common in the 19th and 20th centuries "so we will probably never know for sure who the forger was".
His widow, Mary Parsons, voluntarily agreed to give up rights to the letter, so it could be sent back to the Vatican Library, the embassy said.
It will be the third stolen letter written by Columbus returned by the DHS, with one going to a library in Florence and the other to a library in Barcelona.