The highly secretive Vatican has long been a treasure trove of mysteries and conspiracies. Locked away from the world and only seen by a very few, the inner sanctum of this place has spawned all manner of weird stories, including long lost texts, Illuminati secrets, covert information on all manner of unsolved mysteries, and even stories of biblical artifacts or even aliens and UFOs buried within the archives here. One very odd and pervasive story is that the Vatican once held, or perhaps still does, a sort of device for time travel, and it is a rather wild tale to be sure.
The bizarre story begins in the early 1960s, when a Father François Brune was on a boat ride across the Grand Canal in Venice when he by chance made the acquaintance of a physicist and priest named Father Pellegrino Ernetti, and the two began a deep discussion on religion and biblical interpretations based on their mutual knowledge of theology and love of science. As they were both scientists, at some point in the conversation the topic turned to science, with Ernetti suggesting that science could be useful for concretely proving certain biblical interpretations. When this got a raised eyebrow from Brune, Eretti then brought him aside and admitted that not only was it possible, but that it had been done, that there existed a time machine of sorts that could look through the mists of time to witness events long since passed. From that moment on the two shared frequent correspondence, during which Ernetti would weave a tale of the alleged machine, that was at once fascinating, mysterious, and completely bonkers.
Ernetti called it the Chronovisor, and according to him it had been invented in the 1950s by a dedicated and secret cabal of twelve renowned scientists commissioned by the Vatican for the purpose of creating a device that would allow the world's greatest biblical mysteries to be observed and proven. Some of the names Ernetti dropped among those responsible for the machine’s creation were himself, the German-born American aerospace engineer, space architect, and eventual NASA rocket scientist Wernher von Braun, and the great physicist Enrico Fermi, who had won the Nobel Prize in physics in 1938 for proving new radioactive elements produced by neutron irradiation. The machine itself was described as being a large cabinet containing an array of cathodes, dials, levers and several antennae containing rare, precious alloys, with a large cathode ray tube on its front that made it look like some sort of bizarre TV set. In a way, that’s exactly what it was, as rather than physically bringing time travelers back to the past, the Chronovisor rather allowed the viewer to look back into history and see and hear events that had taken place hundreds or even thousands of years ago.
Ernetti was quite specific about how all of it worked, even drawing up diagrams of what it looked like and how it functioned. According to him, it worked by picking up the electromagnetic radiation left behind from past events and then decoding that to produce an image of the event, complete with accompanying audio. Ernetti explained that everything that happened left behind these radiation signatures, like echoes from the past just bouncing around space and time, and that the Chronovisor merely translated these to reproduce them on a screen. All one had to do was to use a special instrument panel to select a date and location that one wanted to see, and after a few moments of translating the radiation signature the event would play out like a movie on the screen. Ernetti claimed that he had personally watched many scenes from history on the enigmatic device, including a speech given by Napoleon Bonapart, scenes from ancient Rome such as Marcus Tullius Cicero’s speech to the Roman senate in 63 B.C. and a performance of the Roman poet Quintus Ennius’s lost play Thyestes, as well as biblical events including the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the Last Supper, and even the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, among others, which he said proved they happened for real. As proof, Ernetti even produced an image that he claimed was an actual photo taken from the screen of Jesus Christ, as well as a copy of Thyestes that he claimed to have transcribed word for word.
Ernetti claimed that the machine had been locked away by the Vatican and that he had been sworn to keep the whole project secret, Brune being the first one he had mentioned it to. Indeed, he said that Pope Pius XII had ultimately deemed the Chronovisor to be too dangerous for mankind, forbidding anyone from speaking of it, hiding it away, and even threatening to excommunicate anyone who tried to use it again, before eventually having it dismantled altogether. Despite all of this secrecy, the story would somehow leak and get out into the wild with an article in a May, 1972 issue of the Italian magazine La Domenica del Corriere, complete with the sensational headline “A Machine That Photographs the Past Has Finally Been Invented,” and even the alleged photo of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion, supposedly mailed in by an anonymous party. After this, the story heavily made the rounds all over Italy, appearing in numerous sensational and often trashy headlines.
Even as this stirred a great deal of awe, wonder, and debate, it also drew a large amount of skepticism as well. It was pointed out that the photo of Jesus was quite obviously fake, and that the play Thyestes was riddled with Latin errors that suggested that it was not as old as he claimed and that Ernetti had probably written it himself. It was also fairly suspicious that the machine was nearly exactly the same as a device featured in the science fiction novella, E for Effort, by T.L. Sherred, which was published in 1947. Further adding to all of this is that Ernetti never provided any complete instructions for how the machine was made, nor did he ever go into any particularly great detail on the finer points of how it worked, with most of his explanations remaining very technical-sounding, yet ultimately vague and not very useful. There was also the fact that Von Braun never made mention of such a device, and Fermi had died in 1954 before the story ever came out, making it impossible to corroborate their involvement in it all. There just isn’t any concrete evidence such a device ever existed.
Despite all of this, Ernetti continued to insist that the Chronovisor was real, even penning an open letter stating as much shortly before his death in 1994. There would later be a relative of Ernetti’s who claimed that he had made a deathbed confession that it he had indeed faked the play and photograph, and that Fermi had never been involved, but he curiously continued to insist that the machine was real. Brune would dismiss this as either a false claim or a false confession coerced by the Vatican or other authorities. After all, why would such a respected scientist and priest make up such a story and keep it up for decades, only to recant it all at the last minute? It certainly is odd. For his part, Brune would write a book on it all in 2002, entitled Le Nouveau Mystère du Vatican, and would continue to insist that the Chronovisor was real all the way up to his own death in 2019. The story has gone on to become a popular topic for conspiracies, with all manner of debate on what was going on here and plenty of claims that the device is not only actually real, but may even still be locked away in the Vatican. Considering the Vatican's long history of complete secrecy, it is not hard to imagine. Is there anything to this at all, or is just some long-running hoax, perpetrated by Ernetti or even Brune? The safe bet is that this is an elaborate urban legend of sorts, but who knows? Whatever the case may be, it is a wild story that only adds to the mystique and conspiracies orbiting the Vatican.