VIA CHRISTINA – Het boek / The book


The research for the book Passage naar Rome resulted in some interesting findings.

Here the research report with an overview of the main conclusions in two chapters:


I. Faults and fabrications

A documented and reasoned  summery of troublesome errors and persistent inventions in the Christina-historiography.


II. The Kircher-letters

New insights from the correspondence between Christina and Athanasius Kircher s.j., emerged in 1997.


Author: Frans Godfroy / © 2022.


Most recently edited:

December, 2022.


The research report is available as pdf-file: download here.





II. The Kircher-letters



The extremely glorious welcome that Queen Christina was given at the Collegio Romano of the Jesuit Fathers on January 20, 1656, was one of the highlights of her triumphant introductory tour of Rome. Her return to the Jesuit college a week and a half later, this time to be shown around by Father Athanasius Kircher in his famous science museum, underlined the great significance the Collegio apparently represented to the queen.
    Until recently, historians were left in the dark about the origins of her extraordinary interest. That changed as, in 1997, an extensive collection of letters from Kircher turned up in the archives of the Collegio Romano, which contained the key to solving the riddle.



Christina and the Collegio Romano


Public attention to the queen’s reception at the Collegio Romano was so great that, despite the deposition by the Swiss Guards at the frontdoor, she could barely make her way through the crowd, according to the report by chronicler Galeazzo Gualdo Priorato. (100) The entrance and the halls of the institute were richly decorated with ornaments devoted to the queen and to the branches of science in which the Jesuits conducted education and research. Under a canopy, a throne stood ready for the queen. The rector, Father Ludovico Bompiani, addressed her in Latin. Then she visited the classrooms one by one. In each of them, she was welcomed with a poem by the best student in the class. Ultimately, the party went to the famous college church, dedicated to Saint Ignatius. She sat there listening to the choir sing motets.
    Not long after, Christina visited the Collegio Romano again. The first time she hadn’t gotten around to what interested her most: the library, the herb garden, and Father Kircher’s science museum. This time, accompanied by a small retinue, she was let in through a back door. Without the pressure of an overloaded ceremonial, she had plenty of time to view the incunabula and manuscripts and the portrait gallery in the library, admire the medicinal herbs in the garden, and take a tour of the numerous scientific objects in Kircher’s museum: music machines, skeletons, stuffed animals, measuring instruments, ovens, models of the micro- and macrocosm, and scale models of obelisks full of hieroglyphs, interpreted by Kircher’s own translations.
    The Norwegian historian Oskar Garstein wrote in 1992: ‘What actually excited the Queen’s sensibilities most during these visits to this famous Jesuit foundation is not known. But surely one of the highlights of her guided tour must have been her meeting with the universally acclaimed philosopher and mathematician, Jesuit Father Athanasius Kircher, incidentally her confidant Paolo Casati’s colleague at the Collegio Romano.’ (101) What Garstein did not know was that Kircher had corresponded with Christina since 1649 and had been involved in the conversion plan from the start. In 1992, the letters, from which that history could be read, were still waiting to be discovered in the archives of the Collegio Romano.



Hidden Kircher-archive


The credit for unlocking Kircher’s extensive correspondence, largely housed in the archives of the Pontifica Università Gregoriana in Rome, is due to the American researcher Michael John Gorman and his collaborators. He announced his discovery to the world in 1997. (102)
    Two years later, Gorman referred to two letters from the excavated correspondence: one from Kircher to Queen Christina and one in reverse. In an article about the impact on society of the scientific practice of the Jesuits in the seventeenth century, he elaborated on the visits by Queen Christina to the Collegio Romano in 1656. (103) The correspondence between Kicher and Christina preceded these events.
    Among other things, the father had written to the queen on November 11, 1651: ‘Your Majesty will know that our Society not only holds you in intimate affection, as is fitting, but also esteems and admires above all other things those rare and sublime treasures bestowed by heaven that divine bounty has hoarded up in your breast. This is especially true of this Roman College of our Society, both of the famous men and writers and of the novices, who have come from all of the nations of the world, where we speak 35 different languages, some native to Europe, Africa, and Asia, the remainder to the Indies and America.’ (104)
    In the undated letter from Christina to Kircher, it was stated that she hoped to be able to speak freely with him soon and that she was curious if he still intended to dedicate a book to her. (105)



Open source


The two letters quoted were part of Kircher’s correspondence, which had just surfaced and contained more than 2,000 items. Gorman and his team had hardly had an opportunity to decipher and translate them (most of the letters were written in Latin), not to speak of studying them in context.
    Unlocking such an enormous collection of documents according to the usual method would take years. But a faster method was conceivable. Gorman and his associates devised an ingenious plan at the time, in which the most advanced technological facilities and the latest insights in the field of knowledge sharing would lend a hand. The more than 2,000 manuscripts were all digitized and put online by Stanford University in California. Thanks to this open-source project, the Athanasius Kircher Correspondence Project (106), any researcher, anywhere in the world, who wanted to learn more about Kircher or his correspondents, could get started.
    Still, it took until 2008 before the correspondence between Kircher and Christina was noticed by others. In an article about Christina’s interest in esotericism, Susanna Åkerman quoted from the two letters mentioned by Gorman. She read from them, among other things, that Kircher had sent his book Musurgia Universalis to the queen in 1651. (107) In 2011, John Edward Fletcher compiled a list of the highlights of the Kircher correspondence that had been retrieved. This showed that Kircher had written even more letters to Christina. (108)
    This access to Kircher’s Treasury was extremely beneficial to the research for the book Passage naar Rome. Yet it was important to see the manuscripts with our own eyes. What had been written about it thus far by others was remarkable enough, but did not offer a complete understanding of the material. Integral transcriptions were not available, and some interpretations gave rise to doubts.
    Deciphering and translating the manuscripts was a challenge. Kircher’s writing was legible as long as he hadn’t tampered with it: all of his texts were drafts, with numerous deletions and corrections in the margins and between the lines. The physical condition of the letters was not that bad after three and a half centuries, but the ink on the mostly two-sided sheets was often printed through, which made the text difficult to read, if not illegible. Other obstacles were the seventeenth-century handwriting and the Latin used by Kircher, which is characterized by complicated, endless sentence structure and baroque imagery and is larded with ancient Greek text fragments. With the help of three Latinist friends, the letters were taken care of one by one.





The results showed up well. Six letters were involved: three Latin letters from Kircher to Queen Christina; a letter in German from Christina to Kircher; and a letter in Latin about Christina from Father Van Zylle s.j. in Louvain to Kircher. We also included a letter from Kircher to Christina’s cousin, Crown Prince Karl X Gustav, in the investigation. This one, kept in the Riksarkivet of Sweden, was already known but came to be seen in a new light.


1. Undated letter from Athanasius Kircher to Queen Christina, presumably May, 1649. (109)

Although there is no date, it can be determined with great certainty when Kircher wrote this letter, thanks to the enclosed address. (110) In addition to Queen Christina, who is referred to by a long series of titles, it reads: ‘Matthias Palbitzky, gentilhomme dela chambre de sa Mté de Suède’. That record is interesting, because we know exactly when Christina’s envoy Palbitzki (111) was in Rome thanks to his diary and his official messages from Italy to the Swedish court: from about April 27, 1649 (112) to the end of August 1649 (113). Kircher wrote another, dated letter to Christina on June 4. This undated letter, which clearly has an introductory character and must have preceded it, was therefore probably written sometime in May.

Letter from Kircher to Queen Christina, undated, presumably May 1649. (Archivio della Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome.)
Letter from Kircher to Queen Christina, undated, presumably May 1649. (Archivio della Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome.)

    The letter itself is a submissive, not to say obsequious, response to an honourable request from the queen’s envoy, Palbitzki, to share knowledge with her on the scientific topics he was pursuing, particularly his research on the ancient Egyptian languages (…Aegypti sapientiam…). Kircher pours himself out in praise from start to finish, but how he intends to accommodate the queen’s wishes remains unclear. It seems as if this draft version, without a date, is not yet finished. This is also indicated by the paragraphs that Kircher has scribbled in the margin, which are unfortunately almost illegible. All in all, it remains a mystery what message Kircher ultimately conveyed to the queen. Nonetheless, as the beginning of the secret correspondence between the Lutheran queen of Sweden and the learned Jesuit in Rome, this letter has historical significance.

    The surprising discovery in 1997 of an exchange of letters between Kircher and Christina, initiated in the spring of 1649 by the contact made by Christina’s envoy Palbitzki in Rome, suddenly opened up a new perspective on the historical course of events. In 1649 nobody spoke about conversion plans yet. The young queen was, however, deeply interested in classical antiquity, ancient and contemporary art, and current scientific developments. That is why, in addition to his diplomatic mission to the courts of Venice and Florence, she entrusted her favourite envoy, Palbitzki, with a cultural mission in Italy: to collect art, scientific writings, and literature from classical antiquity and the modern era, and to invite sculptors and designers to her coronation celebration, which was finally scheduled for 1650, six years after she took office.
    Why Palbitzki hardly pays any attention to this cultural component in his diary is not entirely clear. Perhaps he regarded that part of his work as an assignment that he carried out not so much for the Swedish nation as for the queen privately, which in a sense it was. Anyhow, the official messages he sent to Christina show that he spared no expense to please her in this respect.

    Even so, those reports did not tell everything. Nothing is said about his interactions with Kircher. Was a connection between the Swedish Lutheran queen and the learned Jesuit maybe too explosive to mention in his reports? Kircher’s follow-up letters to Christina contain allusions to this: ‘…(now) a way has been found through which it can be sent…’ (114) and ‘…our Palbitzki…’ as confidential intermediary (115). If Christina and Kircher had the intention to hide their connection from the outside world, they’ve done a great job anyway. Until 1997, no one had heard of this secret correspondence that got underway quite some time before Christina presented her conversion plans to the Jesuits Macedo, Nickel, Casati, Malines, Francken, and Manderscheidt. The sequel will reveal something else that we didn’t know before, namely that Kircher was one of the first to be involved in that game, as soon as Father Macedo arrived in Rome with two top-secret letters from Christina: one for the general superior of the Jesuits and one for the learned Father Athanasius Kircher. However, that would take another two and a half years.


2. Letter from Athanasius Kircher to Queen Christina, June 3, 1649. (116)

Shortly after the submissive but vague (undated) letter, Kircher again sat at his desk on June 3, 1649, and wrote a letter to the queen. He was now more specific about how he thought he could satisfy her thirst for knowledge. He was working on a book called Obeliscus Pamphilius about the obelisk on Bernini’s Fontana dei quattro fiumi in Piazza Navona. It covered exactly what the queen was looking for: ancient Egyptian, Coptic, and the decipherment of hieroglyphics, hieratics, and Coptic characters. Unfortunately, there was still a year of work left. Another book, Musurgia Universalis, dealing with music, was nearing completion. Still, it would be a few more months before it was printed. Palbitzki would have left for the north by then, so it would have to be sent.

Letter from Kircher to Queen Christina, June 3, 1649. (Archivio della Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome.)
Letter from Kircher to Queen Christina, June 3, 1649. (Archivio della Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome.)

    ‘Meanwhile, having truly realized that I shall dare this with impunity thanks to your Royal Majesty’s leniency and that a way has been found by which it may be sent, I will give my Musurgia as soon as it has come out of the printing press – and beneath it is already sweating – lay it down at your Royal Majesty’s feet,’ Kircher wrote to the queen.
    When the book was finished in February 1650, Kircher sent it to the queen via the secret route proposed by Palbitzki.


3. Letter from Athanasius Kircher to Karl Gustav in Nuremberg, February 28, 1650. (117)

Kircher’s letter to Christina’s cousin, Karl Gustav, was already known and is saved in the Riksarkivet of Sweden. This is the letter of presentation to Karl Gustav accompanying Kircher’s book Musurgia Universalis, sent to his residence in Nuremberg. On behalf of Sweden, he conducted the implementation negotiations following the Peace of Westphalia. Palbitzki had travelled there in August 1649 because he had been added to the negotiating delegation. (118) It is not certain why Karl Gustav also received a copy, although it is conceivable that this was Palbitzki’s idea in order to neutralize the present from a Jesuit, still a very suspect species in Sweden at the time. If Christina were questioned about it, she could simply say that others had also received this gift from the popish scientist.

Letter from Kircher to Prince Karl Gustav, February 28, 1650. (Riksarkivet Stockholm, Stegeborgsammlingen.)
Letter from Kircher to Prince Karl Gustav, February 28, 1650. (Riksarkivet Stockholm, Stegeborgsammlingen.)

    In this letter, unlike in the drafts in the Kicher archive, we see Kircher’s beautiful, extremely legible handwriting without deletions or ragged additions. In his typical verbose style, he explains why, in addition to Christina, he also wants to give Karl Gustav a copy of his latest book. ‘After the blessed Royal Majesty, the mostly wise Queen of the Swedes, has deigned to condescend so much that she has been pleased to accept some of the writings arising from the night labours of my insignificant person, in accordance with her utmost esteem and benevolence for literate men, I have thought that it was by no means fair to pass over him who, with the highest power, presides over the Swedish cause, and shows equally great benevolence and leniency towards the promoters of the noble arts.’
    Through this open gesture to Christina’s cousin, the head of the Swedish negotiating delegation in Nuremberg, Kircher effectively removed the gift of his book from the sphere of secrecy and suspicious contacts. It is doubtful, however, whether Kircher and Christina were equally frank about their correspondence, given the allusions therein to the secret ways that had to be chosen and the lack of opportunities to communicate freely. This is also indicated by the fact that a letter of presentation accompanying the copy of Musurgia for Christina is not to be found in the Swedish Riksarkivet. The package probably reached her by the ‘found way’ through which it could be sent without any problems, that is, by evading the suspicious Swedish court bureaucracy.


4. Undated letter from Queen Christina to Athanasius Kircher, August-September, 1651. (119)

The only letter from Christina to Father Kircher that we have known since the discovery of the Kircher archive is undated and brief. For the first time, two years after Palbitzki’s visit, Father Kircher read words that the queen herself had entrusted to the paper in her typical inclining forward and right-sloping handwriting. At the time, he had immediately started writing diligently, sent her several books, and indicated his intention to dedicate one of his next publications to her. However, no answer had come.

    Now, at the end of October 1651, a Portuguese confrere, Father Macedo, had suddenly appeared on the doorstep. He had been sent directly from Stockholm to Rome for a secret mission by Queen Christina. In great confidentiality, he told her unbelievable news: she wanted to become a Catholic and called on the Jesuit Order to help. In addition, he brought a letter from her to Kircher with him. (120)

Letter from Queen Christina to Kircher, undated, August-September 1651. (Archivio della Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome.)
Letter from Queen Christina to Kircher, undated, August-September 1651. (Archivio della Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome.)

    Christina’s astonishing plan revealed a lot about the lack of response to his letters and book packages. It was understandable that, in the particular situation she had entered, she was trying to avoid traceable contacts with Jesuits that were not strictly necessary. In her letter, she thanked him for the books he had sent. She apologized for her long silence and added guiltily: ‘I should like to know whether you still consider me worthy of dedicating your incomparable works to me.’ (121)
    We already knew another part of the story of Father Macedo’s secret mission from the chronicle of Gualdo Priorato and from archive documents of the Jesuit order. (122) Macedo had left Sweden for Rome in disguise on September 2, 1651. The Queen had dispatched him with the top-secret message of her conversion plan for the Jesuit order’s Superior General, Father Francesco Piccolomini. (123) In a letter to the Superior General, she explained how she had become curious about the scientific work of the Jesuits in recent years. She requested that the proposals presented by Macedo on her behalf be considered and that some learned Jesuits be sent to her to share their knowledge.  The announcement that all this was dominated by her intention to become a Catholic was not described in the letter, but was communicated orally by Father Macedo for safety’s sake.
    Notable in the letter to the Superior General is the passage in which Christina refers to her growing interest in the scientific activities of the Jesuits: ‘Reverend Father, the esteem I so rightly pay to this glorious order, of which you have the honour to be the worthy head, has made me long for the blessing of your knowledge for some years; reason to convey to you my feelings of esteem, which oblige me to seek your friendship.’ It is not stated which factors contributed to this increased interest in recent years. Before crossing the path of Father Macedo, member of a Portuguese legation, in 1651, she had never met a Jesuit. (124)
    Much of this has been clarified by the Kircher correspondence, which surfaced in 1997. At first, the finder of the Kircher letters, Michael John Gorman, mistakenly assumed that the queen’s undated letter to Kircher was a response to a visit made to her by the Jesuits Casati and Malines in 1652 at her request. (125) Apparently, Gorman was unaware of the pioneering role Father Macedo had played a year earlier as Christina’s very first confidant and secret agent to convey her conversion plans to Rome. The fact that in the beginning of the letter to Kircher, Father Macedo is mentioned as the courier, reveals that on his secret mission from Stockholm to Rome in the autumn of 1651, Macedo carried not one, but two letters: one for the Superior General of the Jesuits and one for Father Kircher. Taken together, these two letters mark the irreversible beginning of the conversion process that Christina had decided to embark on, and now, in their interrelation, we perceive their full significance.
    In both letters, Christina refers emphatically to the oral message that Father Macedo was to convey. It underlines the danger of his mission: the information about her intended conversion was too explosive to be committed to paper. Telling in this context is Christina’s lament at the end of the letter to Kircher, which betrays impatience: ‘I hope that from now on we will be freer and assured of mutual correspondence, and that we will be able to communicate unhindered.’ In reality, Christina had to wait another three years before she could communicate more freely with the Catholic world. She wouldn’t meet Kircher for another four and a half years.


5. Letter from Athansius Kircher to Queen Christina, November 11, 1651. (126)

Kircher’s enthusiasm for Christina’s proposed conversion was boundless. But he had to hold back because the plan was top-secret. The number of initiates had to be kept as small as possible. Fortunately, he was able to talk about it with a direct colleague, who was soon involved in the conspiracy: Father Paolo Casati. Interim Superior General Goswin Nickel had approached him as one of two confreres who would proceed to Stockholm disguised as traveling salesmen to assist the queen on her path to a Catholic confession of faith. Like Kircher, Casati was a mathematician at the Collegio Romano and had a great deal of knowledge of Galileo’s theories which were rejected by the Catholic Church and about which Christina wanted to know more. Father Francesco Malines, a theology teacher at the Jesuit College of Turin, had been selected as his traveling companion. (127)
    In the weeks of preparation that remained, Kircher and Casati could freely exchange ideas about the miracle of conversion that would unfold before their eyes and the part they both played in it. Even before his two confreres, under the pseudonyms Don Bonifacio Ponginibbio and Don Lucio Bonanni, set out on the journey to the far north, Kircher wrote the jubilant letter to the queen, from which, as we saw above, Gorman already quoted several sentences in his 1999 article. Kircher, however, avoided naming her secret directly. And although no one outside the select company of initiates was aware of the play being prepared behind the scenes, Kircher unconcernedly endorsed the entire Jesuit community, including teachers and students, especially those of the Collegio Romano, behind his eulogy. The fact that Christina was still regarded by the Roman part of Europe as a heretical queen of a heretical country couldn’t stop him: ‘All of them are excited by the fame of your Majesty’s wisdom, and attracted by some unknown sympathetic magnetism, and their only ambition is to paint the extraordinary example of all virtues that your Majesty exhibits to the world in all the colours that it deserves.’

Letter from Kircher to Queen Christina, November 11, 1651. (Archivio della Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome.)
Letter from Kircher to Queen Christina, November 11, 1651. (Archivio della Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome.)

    In detail, he answered Christina’s question about whether a dedication of one of his works to her was still there. Such assignments were usually accompanied by princely patronages, which provided financial support to scientists and writers. Kircher already envisioned himself as the first Roman Catholic author to be the centre of attention with beneficial patronage from the converted queen of Sweden. Previous opportunities for an assignment to Christina had already passed. He was now working on a four-volume Egyptological work, Oedipus Aegyptiacus. The first volume was about to be published and he would have loved to dedicate it to the queen, but in the meantime, none other than the emperor himself, Ferdinand III, had assumed its patronage: ‘While the circumstances showed up like this, it was not possible to reward you by dedicate this work to you. So, I did with certainty designate another work for your Majesty, that may not be behind Oedipus in size or treatment of special causes, and that I entitle Mundus Subterraneus, at least if I hear that it pleases your Majesty in this way.’ Whether it pleased the majesty we do not know, for there is no acquainted letter or other signal from Christina in which she accepts this offer. In any case, it didn’t work out. Mundus Subterraneus, a book on the interior of the earth, published in 1655, was dedicated to Pope Alexander VII. It wasn’t until a year later that Kircher would dedicate a book about the universe, Itinerarium Exstaticum, to Christina.
    Another offer made by Father Kircher in his letter to the queen was extraordinary. For his four-part publication, Oedipus Aegyptiacus, he examined twelve obelisks. He promised to dedicate one of these columns to the queen. This ‘in order to prevent the indebted dedication from passing your Majesty again this time’. When Father Kircher showed Christina around his museum in Rome in 1656, he proudly showed her the materialization of this assignment: a pedestal beneath one of his wooden imitation obelisks with a tribute to her written on it.
    Kircher’s adoration for Christina, however, would soon disappear like snow in the sun. The dedication in Itinerarium Exstaticum was replaced in the second edition by a dedication to the son of Emperor Ferdinand III, probably because the sponsorship Kircher expected from the penniless queen stayed away. The dedication on the pedestal of the obelisk was overpainted after some time with a dedication to Pope Clement IX, the successor of Alexander VII, and when he was succeeded by Clement X after a short pontificate, Kircher only had to remove the I of the Roman numeral IX to dedicate the obelisk to someone else again. The disdain with which Christina, once in Rome, belittled the role of the Jesuits in her conversion seriously chilled the once warm relationship with the Societas Jesu. Also, the numerous scandals she caused after her triumphant conversion will not have helped Kircher’s feelings for the famous convert. (128)


6. Letter from Father Otto Van Zylle to Athanasius Kircher, September 25, 1655. (129)

In September 1655, four years after Father Macedo’s confidential announcements, Kircher was still silent about the miracle of conversion. Christina, meanwhile, had adopted the Catholic faith in the palace of Archduke Leopold-Wilhelm in Brussels, but even this successful realization of her daring plan had to be kept silent until the right moment came to proclaim the news to the world. That would be in Innsbruck, where the queen on her way to Rome would definitely have Catholic soil under her feet. On September 12, after a delay of more than a year in the Spanish Netherlands, she left for the south. Still as ‘Lutheran’ queen, she travelled with a large, almost entirely Roman Catholic retinue from Brussels in the direction of Louvain.

Letter from Father Otto van Zylle s.j. to Kircher, Louvain September 25, 1655. (Archivio della Ponitificia Università Gregoriana, Rome.)
Letter from Father Otto van Zylle s.j. to Kircher, Louvain September 25, 1655. (Archivio della Ponitificia Università Gregoriana, Rome.)

    Kircher, who, as we have seen, was involved in the conspiracy from the start, was informed of her departure by a confrere, Father Otto van Zylle, who was affiliated with the famous Jesuit college of Louvain. Here Christina was received, although she travelled ‘incognito’, which meant that she waived official receptions.
    Van Zylle wrote to Kircher: ‘Peace be with you. At last, on the twelfth day of this month, the illustrious Queen of Sweden set out and entered Louvain. The illustrious Archduke escorted her for an hour and a half. Today she may be in Roermond; from there she continues to Cologne, Frankfurt, Augsburg, and Innsbruck. She has pointed out to me that she will not visit Venice, because she is burning with desire to see Rome as soon as possible.’
    One of the reasons for Christina’s stay in the Spanish Netherlands had been that neither the King of Spain, Philip IV, nor the segretario di stato of the Vatican, Fabio Chigi, had granted Pope Innocent X the reception of the convert of the century. Christina had not been given the green light for her triumphal journey to Rome until Innocent was dead and buried and Chigi himself had been elected pope as Alexander VII. Father Van Zylle emphasized that she had put her trust in him: ‘She has many expectations of this Pope on the basis of his virtues and greatness.’
    Van Zylle went on to give details of the procession: ‘In her retinue are Don Antonio Pimentel, envoy of the King [of Spain] at her court, and Don Antonio della Cueva with his wife. Also with them is Father Joannes de la Madre de Dios, ex-provincial of the Discalced Carmelites, with a priest friend and our confrere, Father Carolus Manderscheidt. Moreover, there is a fairly large group of nobles and servants, as well as a squadron of bodyguards on horseback.’ He also reported that Christina intended to visit the Marian sanctuary of Loreto during her journey through Italy.
    At the end of the letter, Van Zylle, who had received a portrait of her for the library, stoked the fire of his learned confrere and admirer of Christina, not forgetting to remind him that she had more favourites in the Collegio Romano: ‘She longs to see Kircher and the other scholars, and especially Giattini, of whom I have spoken to her only once.’ Giovanni Battista Giattini was a prominent philologist and Latinist at the Jesuit College in Rome. Like Kircher, he taught a wide variety of subjects, including logic, physics, metaphysics, Bible studies, mathematics, and moral theology. He was an expert on the history of the Council of Trent.

    Van Zylle’s letter raises the question of whether and to what extent he was aware of Christina’s secret conversion at that time. In particular, the mention of the high hopes she had of the new pope and of her intention to visit the sanctuary of Loreto – details Van Zylle learned from her own mouth – illustrated Christina’s intense interest in Roman Catholic affairs and suggests that he knew her secret.





The role of the learned Jesuit Athanasius Kircher in the history of Queen Christina of Sweden’s conversion is much greater than was known until recently. This is apparent from the Kircher letters that turned up in 1997 in the archive of the former Collegio Romano, the Pontificia Università Gregoriana in Rome. Kircher, according to tradition, only appeared unannounced in the story’s finale with his reception of the converted queen at the Collegio Romano and his science museum over there: a fitting happy ending to a beautiful adventure. However, no one knew exactly why that reception meant so much to Christina and Kircher. The recovered Kircher letters have clarified a lot about this.
    In our research for the book Passage naar Rome, we have analyzed five letters from the collection that contain the correspondence between the two protagonists or refer to it, plus an already known letter in the Riksarkivet in Stockholm from Kircher to Christina’s nephew, Karl Gustav. We learned that Kircher corresponded with Christina as early as 1649, well before she expressed her desire to become a Catholic. Moreover, we were able to determine that the letters and books he sent to her formed one of the motives that prompted her in 1651 to ask the Superior General of the Jesuits in Rome for experts from the Societas Jesu in Stockholm to support her conversion plan.
    Christina and Kircher were in correspondence with each other amid the tense relationship between Protestantism and the Counter-Reformation. As a result of the fraught history of the Reformation in Scandinavia, relations between Lutheran Sweden and the Jesuit order became even more keen: ‘Jesuitism’, propaganda for the Roman faith, was punishable by death in Sweden. (130) Pope Innocent X, for his part, refused to recognize the Westphalian Peace because it gave the heretics from the north equal rights with the Catholics, who in his eyes adhered to the only true faith. (131)
    Yet practice was often stronger than doctrine. Not everyone was equally rabid. Moderates and fundamentalists were seen on both sides. Queen Christina and Father Kircher are both to be regarded as moderates. Both preferred dialogue to denial. For instance, Christina invited the Catholic philosopher Descartes to Stockholm and corresponded with the Catholic mathematician Gassendi. (132) The Jesuits aimed ardently to turn the whole world Roman Catholic, but for this purpose they had developed a method of ‘adapting instead of denouncing’, with which they achieved great success, especially in China. (133) Kircher mainly corresponded with Catholic scientists and princes, but now and then Protestants also received a book from him, such as the Dutch Calvinist philologist Johannes Gronovius, who found a copy of Oedipus Aegyptiacus in his mail (134), and returned a beautiful letter of thanks (135). This libertarian atmosphere among scientists was one of the fruits of the ‘Republic of Letters’, the international community of intellectuals and wealthy patrons who exchanged ideas in letters and writings across nationalities and religions. (136) Perhaps anticipating the Queen’s patronage, he addresses her in his first letter as ‘Reip.[ublicae] Lit.[terarum] columen’ (‘pillar of the Republic of Letters’). (137)
    That does not alter the fact that the correspondence between Kircher and Christina had dangerous sides, not only because of Kircher’s suspicious ‘Jesuit’ label, but even more because of Christina’s conversion plans. Her wish to become a Catholic was a no-go area in Sweden. Even with the most permissive views on the free movement of intellectual ideas, this would be unacceptable to her compatriots.
    It is difficult to determine when the idea of conversion started to take form in Christina’s mind, but of course she herself was the first of all to realize it and take it into account. It is not inconceivable that, when she ordered Palbitzki to establish contacts with Kircher in 1649, she was already toying with the idea of conversion. With that in mind, she would have required the utmost discretion in her instructions to the envoy. That would explain why statements about Kircher are completely absent from Palbitzki’s reports. Only from Kircher’s confidential letters sent via hidden ways we have recently learned that Palbitzki was the liaison officer.
    All in all, the staging of Christina’s conversion story has been changed by the Kircher letters. The figure of Kircher, in particular, has taken a more prominent place: from festive sidekick in the final scene to intriguing protagonist (albeit often behind the scenes) all the way through the play. Palbitzki’s role has also become more important. He is Christina’s secret agent and the first person on her behalf to throw out the line to the Jesuits by knocking on the door of the famous Father Kircher in Rome. That opening scene largely determines how the play develops further. Likewise, the letters have shed new light on Christina’s own role, particularly in her fascination with Jesuit scientific activism. The issues of faith that came up in the conversations with Kircher’s confreres Casati and Malines are the irreversible sequel.
    One might wonder why such crucial aspects of the story have remained hidden for three and a half centuries. Of course, sometimes parts of the archives escape everyone’s attention for a longer period of time. But so many more sources are available for the history of Christina’s conversion. It may be hardly a coincidence that the correspondence between Kircher and Christina has not penetrated either of them. The two protagonists themselves have probably contributed to this to a large extent by avoiding publicity. They attempted to minimize the risks associated with their correspondence by maintaining secrecy. Later on, the silence about these events probably continued because of the strained relationship between Christina and the Jesuits following her conversion. Kircher canceled his dedications to her. And Christina finally didn’t say anything more about the Jesuits, who had gone to great lengths to convert her: they are simply ignored in her later writings. (138)



100 Gualdo Priorato, Book 7, p. 276 sqq.

101 Garstein, p. 763-764.

102 Gorman, Michael John, ‘The correspondence of Athanasius Kircher : the world of a seventeenth century Jesuit : an international research project’, in: Nuncius, Journal of the Material and Visual History of Science, Florence, A. 12. fasc. 2 (1997), p. 651-658.

103 Gorman, Michael John, ‘From “The Eyes of All” to “Usefull Quarries in philosophy and good literature”: Consuming Jesuit Science, 1600-1665’, in: O’Malley, John W. a.o. (ed.), The Jesuits. Cultures, Sciences and the Arts, 1540-1773. Toronto – Buffalo – London 1999.

104 ibid., p. 175-176.

105 ibid. p. 176.

106 Internet:

107 Åkerman, Susanna, ‘Queen Christina’s esoteric interests as a background to her Platonic Academies’, in: Scripta Instituti Donneriani Aboensis, 20, 2008, p. 17-37.

108 Fletcher, John Edward, A study of the life and works of Athanasius Kircher, “Germanus incredibilis”: with a selection of his unpublished correspondence and an annotated translation of his autobiography, Leiden – Boston 2011.

109 Kircher to Queen Christina, undated, Archivio della Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome, APUG 561 fol. 52r.

110 Kircher to Queen Christina, undated, addendum, Archivio della Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome, APUG 561 fol. 53. Fletcher wrongly thinks that Kircher wrote this letter as a third, i.e. after the letter of November 11, 1651. He appears to be unfamiliar with Palbitzki’s diary, when he writes: ‘This letter is addressed to the Queen via one Mathias Paltistch [sic], ‘gentilhomme de la Chambre de sa Citté [sic] de Suède”‘.

111 Sometimes the last character of the name is written y, sometimes i.

112 Palbitzki, Mathias, letters to Queen Christina, Venice April 14, 1649, Rome April 28, 1649 and Rome May 5/15, 1649, Riksarkivet Stockholm, Diplomatica Italica 2, 3208 g, Vol. 21. 1655. Palbitzki, Mathias, ‘Mathias Palbitzkys Journal 1623-1667’ in: Nisser, Wilhelm, Mathias Palbitzki som connoisseur och tecknare. Uppsala 1934, p. 128.

113 Palbitzki, Mathias, ‘Mathias Palbitzkys Journal’, p. 129.

114 Kircher to Queen Christina, Rome June 3, 1649. Archivio della Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome, APUG 561 fol. 54r-v.

115 Kircher to Queen Christina, Rome November 11, 1651. Archivio della Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome, APUG 561 fol. 50r-v.

116 Kircher to Queen Christina, Rome June 3, 1649.

117 Kircher to Karl Gustav, Rome February 28, 1650. Riksarkivet Stockholm, Stegeborgsamlingen, E 146.

118 Godfroy, p. 33-34.

119 Queen Christina to Ahanasius Kircher, undated. Archivio della Pontificia Università Gregoriana, Rome, APUG 556, fol. 172r-173v. Transcription: ibid.APUG 555 fol. 276r. Italian translation: ibid. APUG 556 fol. 174r.

120 Godfroy, p. 47-48.

121 In the two earlier letters written by Kircher to Christina in 1649, no passage can be found where he explicitly suggests to dedicate one of his books to Christina. Maybe in the final version of the first letter sub (1) such a passage is added as yet. It is also conceivable that Kircher gave hints about it in the (unsaved) letters of presentation at Musurgia Universalis and later at (probably) Obeliscus Pamphilius. Ultimately it is possible that Kircher made convey this option by Christina’s envoy Palbitzki only verbally.

122 Gualdo Priorato, Book 1 p. 18-20. Christina to Francesco Piccolomini, General Superior of the Jesuits, undated, Archivum Romanum Societatis Jesu, Opp. NN 174-175 fasc. B. Published in: Garstein, p. 635.

123 When father Macedo in October arrived in Rome, the General Superior Piccolomini appeared to be deceased. His substitute was Vicar-General Goswin Nickel (who finally would be Piccolomini’s successor). So Macedo handed the letter over to Nickel. (Gualdo Priorato, Book 1, p. 20.)

124 Gualdo Priorato, Book 1, p. 18.

125 Gorman, 1999, p. 176. Susanna Åkerman adopted this misinterpretation by Gorman in her article mentioned above (Åkerman, 2008, p. 22).

126 Kircher to Queen Christina, Rome November 11, 1651.

127 Godfroy, p. 54-56.

128 ibid., p. 275-277.

129 Zylle, Otto van, to Athanasius Kircher, Louvain September 25, 1655. Archivio della Pontifica Università Gregoriana, Rome, APUG 561 fol. 2721.

130 Godfroy, p. 20-21.

131 ibid. p. 15-16, 32-33.

132 ibid. p. 36, 93.

133 ibid. p. 31.

134 Kircher to Johannes Fredericus Gronovius, Rome September 2, 1652, Bayerische Staatsbibliotek, München, 2. Cod. Ms. 617 fol. 100r-100v.

135 Gronovius, Johannes Fredericus, to Athanasius Kircher, October 13, 1652. Archivio della Pontifica Università Gregoriana, Rome, APUG 568, fol. 971°-v°.

136 See among others: Bots, Hans, De Republiek der Letteren. De Europese intellectuele wereld, 1500-1760, Nijmegen 2018.

137 Kircher to Queen Christina, undated, sub (1).

138 See particularly: Christina, Queen, Apologies. Texte présenté, établi et annoté par Jean-François de Raymon. Parijs 1994.