Vatican arrests ex-employee over sale of missing Bernini manuscript

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - Vatican police arrested a former employee for allegedly trying to sell to the city-state a 17th-century manuscript by Italian Baroque master Gian Lorenzo Bernini that had previously disappeared from archives, a Vatican spokesman said.

Experts said the 18-page document, with gilded miniatures, contains the first details of the decorative features in the canopy of St. Peter's Basilica designed by sculptor and architect Bernini.

Bernini is considered the leading master of Italian Baroque architecture in the 17th century and among his masterpieces is the colonnade that surrounds St. Peter's Square.

The suspect, who was arrested on May 27 on charges of attempted extortion, had worked for the Fabric of St. Peter, the institution responsible for the conservation and maintenance of St Peter's Basilica.

He remains in custody at the Vatican and has been questioned twice in recent days, the spokesman added. Vatican prosecutors will decide next week on whether he will be formally indicted.

Prosecutors launched the investigation after a complaint from the Fabric and arrested the man when he brought the manuscript back to the Vatican offering it for 120,000 euros ($130,716).

The news was first reported by Italian daily Domani, which identified the suspect as a former Fabric head of communications and said he allegedly tried to sell the manuscript to Cardinal Mauro Gambetti, the archpriest of St. Peter's Basilica.

Domani said the missing manuscript was back in the Vatican's possession.

($1 = 0.9180 euros)

(Reporting by Alvise Armellini; writing by Angelo Amante; editing by Giulia Segreti and Mark Heinrich)