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Sat Dec 27, 2014, 09:40 AM


Vatican: Preserving ethnological artifacts

One of Rome's best-kept secrets is collection of 100,000 ethnological artifacts

(CNS/courtesy Vatican Museums) Expert restorers work in conservation laboratory for ethnological materials at Vatican Museums Expert restorers work in the conservation laboratory for ethnological materials at the Vatican Museums in this recent photo. Many of the 100,000 artifacts sent to the Vatican via missionaries over the centuries are made of delicate materials such as ostrich plumes, leather and glass beads. For their conservation, the Vatican has a 15-member staff of expert restorers in its state-of-the-art conservation laboratory.

Published: December 26, 2014
By Judith Harris
Catholic News Service

VATICAN CITY (CNS) -- One of Rome's best-kept secrets is the collection of 100,000 ethnological artifacts housed in a special section of the Vatican Museums.

Most of the items were sent to Italy by missionaries over the course of hundreds of years and turned into a collection at the Vatican 90 years ago. They come from as far afield as the Easter Islands, South America and Congo. They include objects from Native American tribes and from Hindu, Buddhist and Islamic religious cultures.

"When people think of the Vatican Museums collections, they often forget that over half of what we have is not European," said Father Nicola Mapelli, a member of the Pontifical Institute for Foreign Missions and director of the Ethnological Missionary Museum within the Vatican Museums.

The unusually large collection was begun in 1692, when such objects were first sent to the Vatican by missionaries in Oceania, China, Australia and the Americas. Then, for the Holy Year of 1925, Divine Word missionary Father Wilhelm Schmidt, an Austrian anthropologist, asked Catholic missions worldwide to send artifacts for display at the Universal Missionary Exhibition called by Pope Pius XI to document the missionary activity of the church beyond Europe. Father Schmidt was the founder of "Anthropos," a journal that reported field research in ethnography conducted by missionaries, especially in New Guinea and Togo.


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