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Vatican says they're gifts; Indigenous groups want them back

2022-07-28

The Vatican Museums are home to some of the most magnificent artworks in the world, from Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel to ancient Egyptian antiquities and a pavilion full of papal chariots. But one of the museum's least-visited collections is becoming its most contested before Pope Francis' trip to Canada.

The Vatican's Anima Mundi Ethnological Museum, located near the food court and right before the main exit, houses tens of thousands of artifacts and art made by Indigenous peoples from around the world, much of it sent to Rome by Catholic missionaries for a 1925 exhibition in the Vatican gardens.

The Vatican says the feathered headdresses, carved walrus tusks, masks and embroidered animal skins were gifts to Pope Pius XI, who wanted to celebrate the Church's global reach, its missionaries and the lives of the Indigenous peoples they evangelized.

But Indigenous groups from Canada, who were shown a few items in the collection when they traveled to the Vatican last spring to meet with Francis, question how some of the works were actually acquired and wonder what else may be in storage after decades of not being on public display. Some say they want them back.

Restitution of Indigenous and colonial-era artifacts, a pressing debate for museums and national collections across Europe, is one of the many agenda items awaiting Francis on his trip to Canada, which begins Sunday.

The trip is aimed primarily at allowing the pope to apologize in person, on Canadian soil, for abuses Indigenous people and their ancestors suffered at the hands of Catholic missionaries in notorious residential schools.

www.independent.co.uk