Today, viewing one of the Vatican Apostolic Library's 82,000 manuscripts—some almost 2,000 years old—requires a scholarly application and a trip to the Vatican. Until now, allowing just anyone to see the documents "would be like putting a child with a paintbrush in front of the Mona Lisa," a church historian tells the Wall Street Journal. Not for long: The library, also called the Popes' Library, is making the manuscripts available to the public online, for free.
The release is a joint project between Italian and Japanese experts and Vatican officials. They'll scan the manuscripts using scanners intended for fragile documents. Digitizing the first 3,000 documents will take some four years, though the first images should appear online this year. It's unclear how long the 43-quadrillion-byte operation will take, the Journal notes. The project will cost $25 million, which has been put forward by NTT DATA, the Japanese firm involved; it's looking for sponsors to help defray the cost. It's "a service that we provide all mankind," says library prefect Msgr. Cesare Pasini. Among the 41 million pages of treasures, via the Telegraph: A Roman manuscript from 400 AD featuring poetry by Virgil. (Read more Vatican stories.)