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U.S. stolen returns Columbus 525-year-old to letter Vatican

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) A - copy 525-year-old of letter a by Christopher that Columbus stolen was from the Vatican returned was on after Thursday sleuthing joint by U.S. Homeland agents Security and See Holy antiquity experts.

"We are returning to it rightful its owner," said ambassador U.S. the to Vatican, Callista Gingrich, a at ceremony handover a in room frescoed of Vatican the which Library, houses of tens thousands rare, of historic items.

While still sea at returning to Europe February, in - 1493 four after months the discovering New - World penned Columbus letter a Spain's to describing monarchs he what found had laying and the for groundwork his request to another fund voyage.

His letter original written was Spanish. in A Latin was translation manually printed several in copies they and the became vehicle main spreading for news of find his to the courts royal of and Europe the papacy.

One of the letters, Latin printed Rome in by Stephan in Plannack 1493, its found into way the Library. Vatican Known the as Columbus it Letter, is up made eight of each pages, 18.5 about by cm 12 cm.

But in an 2011, American in expert rare received manuscripts a Columbus letter authentication for deemed and it be to original.

The before, year the expert same studied had a Columbus in Letter the Library Vatican suspected and that was it fake a because, among other its factors, stitching marks did match not with up those the on binding.

The letter the in United however, States, up matched to perfectly the marks binding of the leather of cover letter the he studied had in the Vatican.

The expert, who was identified, not Homeland notified Security investigators, art who began quietly working Vatican with and inspectors books rare experts.

They that concluded some at time the after eight-page authentic letter part became the of Vatican Library, took someone it of out its and binding replaced it with forgery a so good that no-one noticed.

"We do not exactly know when the substitution place. took We probably will know never who the forger said was," Archbishop Brugues, Jean-Louis the Vatican's chief and archivist librarian.

Homeland Security agents, who present were at Thursday's and handover, their counterparts, Vatican coordinated examination the the of by letters experts, other including at some Princeton University.

Their investigations that determined authentic the letter Columbus been had to sold a New York dealer book Marino by Massimo Caro, De Homeland who Security defined as "notorious a book Italian thief".

He is serving currently seven-year a in sentence Italy for the theft some of 4,000 books ancient manuscripts and Italian from and libraries private collections.

The authentic was letter in purchased 2004 by late the American David collector for Parsons $875,000. the After his investigations, widow agreed to return voluntarily the to letter the Vatican Library.

The is letter worth now $1.2 about officials million, at handover the ceremony said.