Scientists Unravel Secret Of Stain In 800-Year Old Vatican Scroll

Purple spots in an important Vatican scroll has baffled scientists and kept a story from being completely told for years. Scientists have now identified the culprit behind the damage.

Purple Stain Mystery

Since the 18th century, a roll of parchment has kept the story of a young man's self-punishment within it as it sat in the Vatican Secret Archives. However, apart from being hidden in the oldest collection of the Vatican's archives, the mystery behind the young man's story remains because of damages to the parchment that rendered parts of his story unreadable.

The parchment sustained mysterious purple stains and damages on the surface layer of the flesh side, leaving parts of the parchment peeled and the accounts of his suffering therefore incomplete. In ancient times, parchments were often made from animal skin, specifically cow's skin, although the parchment in question was made from goat's skin.

For years, the cause of the stains and damages to the parchment was a mystery before ecotoxicologist Luciana Migliore applied new technology to solve the problem and gathered surprising results.

Mystery Solved

What Migliore and her team wanted to do was to apply new technology in genetic sequencing in hopes of identifying the microbes that eat parchments away, and they chose to use the technology on the 800-year-old parchment, which had purple stains all along the margins and completely obscuring the first and last pages.

Unsurprisingly, they found a significant range of microbes in the purple stains more than the undamaged areas of the parchment, but what surprised them was the fact that many of the microbes were marine or aquatic even if the scroll had never been anywhere near the sea. Specifically, they found both salt-loving and salt-tolerant bacteria colonizing the parchment.

Based on their findings, they believe that the salt-loving bacteria first took over the parchment before the salt-tolerant bacteria took its place.

How Did This Happen?

When ancient scrolls were made, the animal skin was first bathed in a sea-salt bath to preserve it and kill off any flesh-eating bacteria that could eat away the parchment. However, it also made way for both the salt-loving and salt-tolerant bacteria to make their home in the parchment, many of which produce purple pigment.

Through the years, temperature and humidity changes likely caused the salt-loving bacteria to thrive until they ran out, giving way to salt-tolerant bacteria.

Now, though parts of the parchment can no longer be restored because the bacteria has eaten away the collagen of the goatskin, researchers believe there may still be a way to restore the parchment by removing the purple stains on the other parts of the ancient document.

The Story Of Laurentius Loricatus

Laurentius Loricatus was a young soldier about the age of 15 or 16 when he accidentally killed a man. Because of the accidental crime, he retreated into a cave near Subiaco in Italy for 34 years, punishing himself by self-flagellating.

His story was written in 1244 A.D. on a 5-meter-long goatskin parchment, which was eventually passed on to the Vatican Secret Archives. The villagers near the cave where he spent his years punishing himself have petitioned the Vatican for his sainthood.

The report of the parchment is published in the journal Scientific Reports.

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