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Vatican gets ransom demand for Michelangelo letter

VATICAN CITY - A Vatican spokesman admitted Sunday that a letter written by Michelangelo was stolen from their archives in 1997, and they recently received a ransom demand for its return.

The Rev. Federico Lombardi said the Vatican has recently been offered the return of the letter in exchange for a payment, which he did not specific, but that officials have refused to pony up the ransom. Instead, the spokesman said the matter has been turned over to the Vatican gendarmerie for further investigation.

Lombardi was responding to a report in the Rome daily il Messaggero that said a former employee of a Vatican archive has asked a ransom of 100,000 euros ($108,000) to return the letter.

According to il Messaggero, the letter is a rare example of Michelangelo's handwriting, and contains his signature.

The Guardian newspaper reports that Lombardi admitted it was one of two documents stolen in 1997, but he did not specify the nature of the second document.

It is not clear why the Vatican had not spoken of the theft until now.

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