After selecting the language on the Holy See's site (http://www.vatican.va/), a click on the Focus section of the home page offers a virtual walk through the archives' age-old halls amid frescoes and documents.
One may (virtually) page through documents such as the 14th-century Parchment of Chinon, which records the absolution of Pope Clement V of the leading members of the Templar Order. Also accessible are the proceedings of the trial against Galileo Galilei.
Among other treasures, the Vatican Secret Archives include key documents concerning the history of single nations.
"Moreover, for some countries, the Vatican documents are the oldest ones, which even mark the beginning of their own national history," explains the Web page.
The archives include about 85 linear kilometers (52 miles) of shelves. The oldest document dates to the eighth century, while the archives have an almost uninterrupted documentation starting from 1198.
The archives are primarily used by the Pope and the Roman Curia. In 1881, by decision of Pope Leo XIII, part of the archives was opened to be consulted by scholars, "thus becoming the most important center of historical research in the world."