“I am honored to return this remarkable letter to the Vatican Library – its rightful owner,” she said.
The letter is one of a few dozen authentic, reprinted copies of Columbus' original letter, which was handwritten in Spanish and reprinted in Latin. The explorer sent the letter to Spain's King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to offer his first impressions of what he believed to be the eastern edge of Asia. The letter was one of several historical documents given to the Vatican in 1921.
The letter began its journey to Atlanta in 2004 when Robert David Parsons, unaware it had been stolen, purchased it from a rare book collector in New York. A native of England, Parsons raised his family and worked as an actuary in Atlanta. After retiring, he developed a passion for collecting, according to his obituary.
Jamie McCall, an assistant U.S. attorney in the district of Delaware, told The Associated Press that Parsons bought the book in good faith and was not implicated in the theft. Parsons died in 2014. When presented with evidence that the letter was stolen, his widow, Mary, agreed to return it.
"She understood the significance of this particular letter to the Vatican, to the world, to the researchers who come to the library in search of answers for what occurred in that period of time," he said.
The Parsons family could not be reached for comment Friday.
“Understandably, she found it difficult to part with this piece from her husband’s collection,” Gingrich said during her speech at the Vatican Library. “I am pleased that our embassy was able to deliver Mrs. Parsons’ personal letter to His Holiness Pope Francis earlier this week.”
The investigation into the stolen letter is still ongoing.
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