In a move that aims to create a bridge between new technologies and ancient texts, the Vatican Apostolic Library announced on Monday the launch of an “experimental” initiative that will rely on the power of Web3 to provide additional rewards to individuals and organizations who donate money to the institution.

According to the statement released by the library, they will be distributing unique non-fungible tokens (NFTs) to the institution’s economic supporters that will give them access to 15 high-resolution images of manuscripts that belong to a special collection.

Silver and Gold NFTs Will Be Minted for Italians and Donors

Beginning in Italy and following a successful trial rollout in Japan earlier this year, the “Vatican Library Web3 Support Project” will offer an innovative way for individuals to engage with and support the preservation of the library’s vast assortment of texts and unique items including 1.6 million printed books, 180,000 manuscripts, and over 200,000 photographs.

Citizens of Italy who actively share the program through their social media accounts will instantly be eligible to receive a “Silver NFT” that will give them access to the initial collection of 15 manuscripts.

Meanwhile, financial donors to the project will be rewarded with a “Gold NFT” that will unlock a full set of 21 manuscripts that are also part of this special collection. Both the Silver and Gold level NFTs are categorized as “non-transferable,” meaning that they cannot be bought, sold, or traded on marketplaces.

Instead, these ‘soulbound’ tokens give one person unique keys and privileged access to these ancient works.

“I believe that our heritage requires special attention and dedication geared toward preservation and promotion,” commented the Salesian Father Mauro Mantovani, who is the prefect of the Vatican Apostolic Library.

Vatican Library Partners with NTT DATA To Digitize its Archives

To launch this program, the library partnered with the Japanese tech company NTT DATA to achieve the mission of “connecting the cultural institution with its supporters through Web3 technology.”

“NTT DATA has played an important role in supporting the Vatican Library’s mission to make its unique collections accessible to the public, regardless of origin, culture, religion, politics, or ideology, while nurturing scientific research and development,” Father Mantovani added.

NTT DATA specializes in providing AMLAD digital archiving solutions, which combine technologies like 3D scanning, digital restoration, and metadata management to electronically reproduce these invaluable works. The collaboration has been going on since 2014.

“Our goal remains to make the priceless cultural heritage of the Vatican Library accessible,” stated Ludovico Diaz, CEO of NTT DATA Italia. “We will continue this important work of conservation, […] extending the use of blockchain technology to other sectors.”

The library emphasized that it is in the project’s scope to create extended reality (XR) experiences in the future that would allow visitors to access the archives virtually and explore its iconic spaces.

‘Soulbound’ NFTs Represent a New Paradigm for Web3 Initiatives

vatican apostolic library offers nfts to donors

In 2020, the library improved its website to provide enhanced search capabilities to visitors and facilitate access to high-resolution reproductions of its assets, which include, among other items, incunabula – European books produced before the 16th century when the printing press was invented.

The Vatican Apostolic Library has existed since the 14th century when it was formally established. However, Catholics have been keeping organized records since the year 300.

Also read: How to Make Money with NFTs in 2024 – Top 11 Methods

The ‘soulbound’ NFT to be issued by the library represents an interesting precedent and intriguing use case for Web3 technology that goes beyond investing or trading digital art.

The value of these tokens lies in the inability of the holder to transfer ownership to others. However, that does not mean that other people cannot access or view the manuscripts as they could use the credentials of the NFT holder to do it.

The Vatican hopes that this innovative model for cultivating virtual memberships and interest groups could have applications across academia, research, philanthropy, and technology.

Catholics Have Been Embracing Blockchain Tech for Years Now

The Vatican Library NFT rewards program is just a facet of the ongoing proactive exploration of novel technologies like Web3, blockchain, AI, and the metaverse over the past two years – a movement that has been endorsed and promoted from within the Catholic Church’s leadership.

In 2022, reports surfaced that the Vatican had contracted AI firm Darktrace to employ advanced cybersecurity models inspired by the human immune system to protect the institution’s IT infrastructure and systems.

The Vatican Museums were also reportedly developing an NFT gallery in the metaverse to showcase artwork spanning thousands of years.

Meanwhile, in 2021, Pope Francis himself launched a limited-edition NFT collection from his Scholas Occurrentes Foundation, the charitable organization focused on providing education to underserved youth. The proceeds from those NFT sales were used to support the foundation’s most important initiatives.

However, the leadership’s embrace of new technologies does appear to be a carefully measured effort. The Vatican’s website recognizes in its Artificial Intelligence ethics guide the importance of upholding the core principles of human dignity, scientific and ethical integrity, a precautionary and accountable approach, sustainability, and democratic and socio-economic values.

This indicates some degree of “pragmatic curiosity” that opens up the door to further explore how the blockchain space and Web3 movement can benefit the faith and the Vatican’s goals, programs, and endeavors without deviating from its core principles.

The Vatican is by no means alone among major cultural institutions that have been enthusiastically researching and testing the use cases for blockchain, NFTs, and metaverse experiences. In recent years, iconic museums like the British Museum, Uffizi Galleries, The Smithsonian, and the State Hermitage Museum have all launched NFT projects or collaborations.

However, few of these institutions have the cultural weight and social influence of the Catholic Church and its decision to embrace Web3 and NFTs. For over 2,000 years, the Vatican has safeguarded its traditions and institutional credibility, although they have been tainted on multiple occasions by some regrettable scandals.

In many ways, its latest exploration of cutting-edge solutions like NFTs to preserve and share its archives represents a forward-thinking embrace of new technologies to achieve its timeless mission.