Vatican Diaries Reveal Their Secrets

May 30, 2018
Bartolomeo Nogara

The discovery of the diaries of Bartolomeo Nogara, who served as director of the Vatican Museums from the 1920’s until the 1950’s, offers details on the Holy See’s role during World War II, and on the project of modernizing the museums begun under Benedict XV’s pontificate (1914-1922).

For 34 years, Bartolomeo Nogara filled the pages of his diaries with details on the role of the Museums during World War II, their modernization that he had to organize at Benedict XV’s orders, and even his own impromptu conversations with Pius XI.

The diaries confirm the Holy See’s role as a protector of the Jewish community during the war. Bartolomeo Nogara tells of the exceptional destiny of Hermine Speier, a German archeologist from Frankfurt, who was fired for being Jewish in 1933. She took refuge at the Vatican, becoming the first woman to be employed by the Holy See’s Museums.

The Museum director’s diaries also reveal that many members of the Italian resistance were hidden under false names among the Museum employees.

Nominated by Benedict XV, Bartolomeo Nogara also lived through the pontificate of Pius XI (1922-1939). His diaries tell of his frequent conversations with the Holy Father, who loved to walk through the museum’s hallways and exhibition rooms.

They also reveal the strategy of modernizing the Vatican Museums. Bartolomeo Nogara describes in them all of his projects, saying he used the great art galleries of London, Paris and Berlin as inspirations.

Thanks to these 41 diaries, a little-known aspect of the history of the Holy See will soon be made available to researchers. The Church is portrayed in them as a protectress of the arts and guardian of Civilization.