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Vatican Says Ransom Sought For Missing Michelangelo Letters

RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

The Vatican has confirmed a report that it's received a ransom demand for the return of letters written by the Renaissance master Michelangelo. NPR's Sylvia Poggioli reports. It's the first time the theft has been revealed.

SYLVIA POGGIOLI, BYLINE: It has the whiff of a Dan Brown thriller. The daily Il Messaggero reported Sunday that a former Vatican employee recently contacted a cardinal, saying he could get back a document stolen from the Vatican, but for a price - $110,000. Vatican spokesman Father Federico Lombardi confirmed the report, but said the cardinal who's in charge of St. Peter's Basilica naturally refused because these are stolen documents.

Lombardi said two Michelangelo letters were stolen. They were written in the 16th century by the artist who painted the Sistine Chapel, sculpted the Pieta and helped design St. Peter's Basilica. In 1997, Lombardi revealed a nun who worked at the Vatican Archives informed church officials that the documents had gone missing. The spokesman did not explain why the theft had never been made public.

According to the newspaper, an entire handwritten Michelangelo letter is very rare because the artist usually dictated letters to assistants and only signed them. They were part of the archives documenting the history, design and construction of St. Peter's, the largest church in Christendom, completed in 1626. Lombardi said Vatican police and their Italian counterparts are now investigating the latest twist in the tale of the missing Michelangelo letters. Sylvia Poggioli, NPR News, Rome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.