Vatican’s stolen Christopher Columbus letter found in Atlanta

A detail of a page of an authentic 15th Century copy of a letter written by Christopher Columbus as displayed at the Vatican, Thursday, June 14, 2018. The United States is returning to the Vatican Library a letter written by Christopher Columbus in 1493 announcing his discovery of the New World that was stolen and replaced with a forgery. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)
A detail of a page of an authentic 15th Century copy of a letter written by Christopher Columbus as displayed at the Vatican, Thursday, June 14, 2018. The United States is returning to the Vatican Library a letter written by Christopher Columbus in 1493 announcing his discovery of the New World that was stolen and replaced with a forgery. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Tony Gentile

Credit: Tony Gentile

For at least 14 years, investigators searched the world for a stolen letter written by Christopher Columbus in 1493. And it was in Atlanta all along.

The letter had been preserved in the Vatican Library. But at some point it was stolen and replaced with a forged copy, according to the U.S. Attorney's Office. Then, in February 2004, an Atlanta art collector purchased the original letter for $875,000 without knowing it had been stolen, according to investigators.

U.S. Ambassador Callista Gingrich, left, is photographed with Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues on the occasion of the presentation to the Vatican of an authentic 15th Century copy of a letter written by Christopher Columbus, seen at center. Thursday, June 14, 2018. The United States is returning to the Vatican Library a letter written by Christopher Columbus in 1493 announcing his discovery of the New World that was stolen and replaced with a forgery. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)
U.S. Ambassador Callista Gingrich, left, is photographed with Archbishop Jean-Louis Brugues on the occasion of the presentation to the Vatican of an authentic 15th Century copy of a letter written by Christopher Columbus, seen at center. Thursday, June 14, 2018. The United States is returning to the Vatican Library a letter written by Christopher Columbus in 1493 announcing his discovery of the New World that was stolen and replaced with a forgery. (Tony Gentile/Pool Photo via AP)

Credit: Tony Gentile

Credit: Tony Gentile

In April, the Atlanta owner, whose name was not released, agreed to have an expert inspect and compare the Columbus Letter here against the copy found in the Vatican Library. The expert determined the original letter was in Atlanta, and the person with it voluntarily agreed to hand it over, the U.S. Attorney's Office said.

It was the third time in two years that Homeland Security investigators, along with prosecutors for the District of Delaware, have worked together to return stolen letters documenting Columbus’ journey, U.S. Attorney David Weiss said. The letter is now back in the Vatican Library.

“The Columbus Letter, written in 1493, is a priceless piece of cultural history,” Callista Gingrich, U.S. ambassador to the Vatican, said in an emailed statement. “I am honored to return this remarkable letter to the Vatican Library – its rightful owner.”

The investigation into the stolen letter is still ongoing.

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