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Missionary Ethnological Museum

The Ethnological Missionary Museum was founded by Pope Pius XI, ‘Motu Proprio Quoniam tam praeclara’ on 12th November 1926, was the closure of the Universal Mission Exhibition, in which the Pope had wanted during the Holy Year in 1925.

The museum was inaugurated on 21 December 1927 at the office of the Lateran Palace where it has been hosted until 1963.  In 1973, it was set in the Vatican, under Pope Paul VI.  The original nucleus of the collection was of around 40,000 artifacts, which was selected by a committee that worked actively with P. Wilhelm Schmidt S.V.D.  100.000 artifacts from all around the world, offered by private individuals, missions, and from 400 dioceses for the great Exhibition of 1925.

Over the years, the initial collection has been enriched with new acquisitions and donations offered to the Pontiffs.  Among these the remarkable collections of the Museum Borgiano of Propaganda Fide, the collection of Chinese coins P.Joseph Kuo, plaster portraits of the amerinde population made by German sculptor Ferdinand Pettrich, the collection of prehistoric artifacts of the British School of Archaeology in Jerusalem and the valuable collection of ceremonial objects of the Sepik (New Guinea) by P. Franz Kirschbaum S.V.D.  The current museum collection, which amounts to about 100,000 artifacts, is structured in two distinct paths.

The first is open to the public and is organized into 24 sectors representing many geo-cultural areas.  Around 4,000 works are exhibited, mainly of a religious origin, coming from four continents (Asia, Oceania, Africa and America).  Another area, called ‘Summary Mission’, is devoted exclusively to works produced in different countries of origin as a result of evangelization.  The second path, closed to the public and visited only on request, is the rest of the collection consisting of manufactured goods of daily use, ceremonial and artistic, from different societies and cultures. The objects are placed in deposits held in the same geo-cultural sub-divisions of the Prime Path.