Vatican Museums


Why do the Vatican Museums keep and display non-Christian items? There are things from the ancient world relating to paganism. Granted, it isn’t as if anyone at the Vatican is bowing down to these idols. But, it still seems odd to preserve pagan things.

Then again, it is true that nobody really worships via paganism these days, except for those bizarre New Agers, but frankly they’re taken as seriously as satanists are.

If those pieces of art were limited to the Judeo-Christian realm, that’s one thing, but it’s another thing to care about pagan stuff. There are a handful of exceptions, like the obelisk at Saint Peter’s, since it was one of the last things that our first Pope saw. Because of that, it is a relic. But not all pagan things have the same fortunate history.

Or am I just viewing paganism incorrectly? Was paganism just an “incomplete” form of theism, and its culmination and true self rests in Christianity? If I recall right, John XXIII’s teaching on Latin discussed how coming of Christianity was the culmination of past human attempts, such as ancient philosophies. Is it as how a Museum of Math would still display the old abacus even though technology has surpassed it by far?

Or are these things meant to show the victory Christianity had over its pagan oppressors? And even if that is the case, why do the Vatican Museums even have items that came from Islam? Christianity has yet to conquer over it. They also preserve and display a small temple to Vishnu – again something belonging to a religion that is still very much alive (Hinduism).

Of course, the Pope was once a secular monarch, and this could be viewed as a sort of secular museum. But the Pope hasn’t been a secular monarch for well over a century now, and Pius XI relinquished claims that sort of secular power, and that was 80-some-odd years ago. The secular monarchy argument has gone the way of dinosaurs, flappers and the macarena.

It honestly seems a bit impractical to me. I know, though, that our leaders in Rome are far wiser than I am, and I’m sure they have sound reasons for doing this. Can anyone shed some light?


what would be the alternative? destroying works of art and architecture from the ancient world? burning books? condemning all cultures that were not Christian including anything good and beautiful they created from hearts that even though His Name was not known to them, yet were illuminated with His beauty?


There have been periods of time when the Church has destroyed items that were not of an overtly Christian nature. And much as I am chagrinned from a historical standpoint, maybe there was a reason at those places and times when such obliteration was necessary. I would like to think that we have matured to a degree where we can view items for their contribution to humanity apart from whatever pagan or non-Christian origin they may have once had. For instance, when I see an ancient sculpture of Artemis, I have no inclination whatever of worshiping an idol. I am, however, reminded of St. Paul’s mission in Ephesus where the cult of Artemis (Diana) was in full swing. It ties history together.


Even the image of Christ as the Good Shepherd came from the pagan image of the shepherd, Utro told Catholic News Service.

“The image of the shepherd, which represented philanthropy, was very widespread” in Rome’s early Christian era, he said.

“Because, in the Gospel, Jesus said ‘I am the Good Shepherd who will lay down my life for the sheep,’ the early Christians easily recognized Christ in (the pagan shepherd) image and invested it with new meaning,” he said.

Artists also saw Christ in Orpheus, the son of the god of music, Apollo, Utro said.

“Just as Orpheus tamed wild beasts with his music, his image became the image of Christ who, with his words, transformed the lives of sinners,” he said.


Firstly, once again, they are shrines to different gods – to idols. Even that Golden Calf in the Torah were illuminated with His beauty. But did Moses tell them to save it, to enshrine it? No. Instead the ground opened up and swallowed those things.

And secondly, there’s no reason to be as rude as you were. As the ending of my original post said, “I know, though, that our leaders in Rome are far wiser than I am, and I’m sure they have sound reasons for doing this.”

As original poster, I’d appreciate it if you no longer replied to this thread.


Thanks for your replies.

But then again, those images of Jesus had been Christianised, baptised, if you will. Even Bishops’ Mitres had pagan roots, but as ancient peoples recognised those things were reserved to religious use, they were adopted by Christianity and became Christianised. And even though those images of Jesus had pagan influence, they are still images of Jesus.

On the other hand, the shrines to Vishnu are still very much Hindu. While the Hindus even go as far as to recognise Jesus as part of their religion, we Catholics do not feel the same. It still remains that the shrine to Vishnu in the Vatican Museum is a shrine to a deity who is still worshipped today.


Hmm. That’s a very insightful way to look at it. Thanks for your views.

From a historical standpoint, sure, it is a little stinging to do that. I’m a historian myself, and there’s value to these ancient things. But, it would seem to be more in the Vatican’s interests to sell or donate those things to museums. The Pope represents Christ; the Vatican represents the Pope. Ergo, like all priests, the Vatican is meant to represent Christ, and not pagans. It also is not meant to represent, or whatsoever contribute to, Hinduism, for example; yet the Museum has an old shrine dedicated to Vushnu.

Anyway, thanks again for your insight. It’s quite a bit like how the obelisk in the Vatican Square can now be considered Christian because of its relationship with Saint Peter.

I guess in the end, this means that the Vatican Museum contributes to history as a whole, and those items are meant to be viewed for their historical value. It isn’t as if they’re telling us to worship Vishnu.


It’s not my intention to throw fuel on the fire, but honestly, I don’t think this response was meant to be rude. IMHO, the poster asked some valid questions.


The Vatican Museums are, after all, museums. The purpose of museums is to preserve artifacts from, and knowledge of, the past.

There is no particular theological reason for the Vatican not to preserve the museums. It makes sense that an institution with an unbroken 2,000 year history would be in a pretty good position to preserve artifacts of the past. It seems to me to be a non-issue.


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