On 18 October 2019 Pope Francis visited the renovated Ethnological Museum Anima Mundi.
The Holy Father recalled the mission of the Museum: to welcome the spirit of each culture. He strengthened its identity, defining the Anima Mundi Museum as “a living home, inhabited by and open to all, with the doors wide open to populations from all over the world”. Through the “beauty and art” gathered together in this house and displayed in “transparency”, it reminds us all of “the value of harmony and peace between peoples and nations”, making “the voice of God resound”.
Currently over 80,000 objects and works of art are conserved in the Ethnological Museum Anima Mundi. The collection is very diversified: from the thousands of prehistoric artefacts dating from over two million years ago, to the gifts given to the current Pontiff; geographically it covers the cultures of all continents - Australia and Oceania, Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas - including a precious collection of artefacts from pre-Columbian civilisations.
The history of the Museum begins in 1691, with gifts sent from the Americas to Pope Innocent XII. It continued in the following centuries in the collection of Cardinal Stefano Borgia (1731-1804), a passionate lover of “exotic curiosities”, and from 1804 in that of the Borgia Museum of Propaganda Fide, which received objects sent by Catholic missions around the world. This original nucleus then formed the basis of the Missionary Ethnological Museum, established in 1926 by Pope Pius XI and housed in the Lateran Palace. Indeed, Pope Pius XI did not want the positive fruits of the Vatican Exhibition - organised at his behest on the occasion of the Holy Year of 1925 in order to make known the cultural, artistic and spiritual traditions of all the peoples of the world - to be lost. The great success of the Exhibition, which displayed more than 100,000 objects and works of art to over a million visitors, convinced the Pope to transform the temporary event into a Museum, whose organiser and first director was Father Wilhelm Schmidt (1868-1954), the most famous Catholic ethnologist of the 20th century.
The Missionary Ethnological Museum was housed in the Lateran Apostolic Palace until it was moved to its present location, inside the Vatican Museums, and inaugurated in 1973, during the papacy of Paul VI.
At present the Ethnological Museum Anima Mundi is gradually restructuring its rooms and layout with the precise intention of displaying its collection through a transparent and sincere dialogue with the various communities of origin who, starting from the 17th century, have sent gifts to the Pontiffs. The aim is to bring about an action of re-connection, which can give “voice” to all peoples, in a spirit of constructive dialogue, friendship and respect.