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|The Pontifical commission for the cultural heritage of the Church|
Pastoral function of ecclesiastical museums
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The typologies according to which an ecclesiastical museum can be established vary. Types of museums have varied in different epochs, often thanks to Church officials who showed an extraordinary spirit of initiative. Nevertheless, a complete typological list of ecclesiastical museums does not exist. If one wants to attempt a general summary, one can refer to the Church entity that represents the owner or that has been responsible for its origin, or one can refer to the kind of patrimony stored in the museum itself.
In the historical introduction (see the present Circular at n. 1.3. Historical Background regarding the Preservation of the Art-Historical Patrimony), we have already referred to "cathedral treasuries" as well as those older museums that can be properly called ecclesiastical. These museums, in many cases, still exist today, while preserving their function of protecting precious liturgical objects, some of which, in certain circumstances, can be still used for worship. In the course of the centuries, "cathedral museums" were added to these "treasuries", and in some areas also the "Opera del Duomo" (workshop of the Cathedral) that have a less evident connection with worship, because they primarily preserve and display art work and other finds taken from the cathedral and its surrounding area.
In the same historical introduction we also mentioned various types of possible "collections" usually of a monographic nature (artistic, archeological, scientific collections), some containing noteworthy antique artefacts, others with material of more recent date. These collections, that sometimes have become Church property as a result of accidental circumstances, have different provenance: private citizens, Church entities, civil entities, other institutions.
During the post-Vatican Council period the birth of "diocesan museums" increased. In a variety of cases they were established in order to combat the danger of the dispersion of the diocesan artistic patrimony. Similar to these "diocesan museums", "parish museums", "monastic museums", "convent museums", "museums of religious institutions" (for example "missionary museums"), "museums of confraternities", and of other ecclesiastical institutions are quite wide-spread today.
The museums we have recalled refer to a single religious monument, a particular ecclesiastical territory, a specific religious institute. Their nature is different as is the aim they reflect. For example, museums of religious institutions present the historical and geographical features of the presence and development of a particular institute of consecrated life or a society of apostolic life within a specific territory or, in a more general way, their work carried out in various parts of the world. Other museums, such as parish and inter-parish ones, reflect the specific territorial realities that are characterized by well defined ecclesiastical jurisdictions and settings. Missionary museums, on the other hand, reflect the cultures met through the work of evangelization by often underlining the importance of cultural anthropology.
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