The Archivio Segreto Vaticano pursues it specific activity aimed at preserving and enhancing the deeds and documents related to the government of the Universal Church. It primarily serves the Roman Pontiff and the Holy See and secondly offers its services to scholars of all faiths from all nations.
The current name, the « Archivio Segreto Vaticano » has been documented as from the mid 17th century, when, like today, it was given to the pope’s private (secretum) archives over which he exercised supreme and sole jurisdiction.
The documentary heritage housed in its vast storerooms spans about twelve centuries (8th to 20th centuries). It consists of over 600 archival fonds and is stored on over 85 linear kilometres of shelving, some of which is in the Bunker, a two-storey underground vault below the Cortile della Pigna of the Vatican Museums.
After Pope Leo XIII opened the doors of the Archivio Segreto Vaticano to scholars back in 1881, it has become one of the most famous history research centres in the world.
In accordance with a practice established in 1924, the pope grants free access to the documents «grouped into pontificates» currently running up to the end of the papacy of Pope Pius XI (February 1939). Nevertheless, Paul VI departed from this practice and granted scholars access to the Archives of the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965) after the Council came to a close in 1965; Pope John Paul II granted access to the fond Ufficio Informazioni Vaticano, Prigionieri di Guerra (Prisoners of War) (1939-1947); lastly, the fonds Commissione Centrale per l’Arte Sacra in Italia (1924-1989) and Censimento degli Archivi Ecclesiastici d’Italia (1942) have been made accessible to the scholars.