The Department, established in 1971 and entitled “Department for Paleo-Christian Art”, deals with the conservation, study and enhancement of the collection of late Antique, paleo-Christian and High Medieval art conserved in the Pius-Christian Museum, as well as the immense epigraphic collection of the Christian and Jewish Lapidaria, including the artefacts in the permanent deposit at the Pontifical Biblical Institute.
In particular, the Pius-Christian Museum, founded in the Lateran Palace by Pius IX in 1854, hosts more than two hundred and fifty sarcophagi and fragments of sarcophagi from around the mid III century A.D., up to the beginning of the V century A.D., most of which are from cemeteries and paleo-Christian basilicas in Roma and adorned with the rich iconographic repertoire of nascent Christian art. Along with the adjacent Gregoriano Profano Museum, the collection is intended to present the most exhaustive view possible of the development of Roman sculpture, up to the point of illustrating the liturgical decoration of High Medieval churches. The completeness of this itinerary is favoured by the presence of some valuable plaster casts of sarcophagi and paleo-Christian mosaics produced between the end of the XIX and the early XX centuries, as well as several nineteenth-century full-scale copies on paper of the Roman cemetery paintings. As well as sculptural documents, the collection of Christian antiquities includes artefacts of various types and materials, such as pictorial fragments, mosaics and metal objects.
Alongside the foundation of the sculptural collection, the important collection of antique Christian inscriptions that constitutes the Vatican Museums Christian Lapidarium, originally located in the Loggia of the Lateran Palace and then transferred to the Vatican along with the Pius-Christian Museum, was initiated in 1963. The inauguration of the new layout of both collections took place in 1970. The new layout of the Jewish Lapidarium instead dates back to 1985; it has its roots in the Jewish Hall of the Lateran Museum.
The competence of the Department, with regard to aspects of conservation, extends to the paleo-Christian and High Medieval patrimony in the extra-territorial areas of the State, such as, for example, the monumental complexes of the Lateran Palace, Saint Paul Outside-the-Walls, and Saint Mary Major. This heritage consists firstly in the architectural structures, the archaeological remains and the decorations of the Basilicas and their annexes, and in the paleo-Christian artefacts conserved in situ in the aforementioned extra-territorial areas.