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Though applicable to collections composed of Christian objects representative of all epochs, this term is usually reserved to those museums which abound chiefly in Christian objects antedating the Middle Ages, namely, Sarcophagi, inscriptions and products of the minor arts. These objects, as also those peculiar to the Middle Ages, are found in a large number of museums, but not many of these institutions are exclusively or even primarily devoted to them. The first collections that were formed by humanists, (by the Medici in Florence, etc.) occasionally included the earlier types or works of medieval art, but more on account of their artistic merit than because of their Christian character. Collections of inscriptions had been made from the time of the Renaissance, but Christian inscriptions found no place among them. It was not until after the discovery of the Roman catacombs by Antonio Bosio that these inscriptions were visited by collectors from Rome and other cities. The first Christian museum, properly so called, was that of the Vatican, and its origin dates from Benedict XlV, who founded it under the name of "Museum Christianum". Thanks to Marchi and de Rossi, a part of the Vatican collections was taken to form the Lateran Museum, founded by a decree of Pius IX in 1854. For Christian antiquities no other museums equal the latter in point of importance. During the pontificate of Benedict XIV (1740-50) a taste for Christian antiquities was developed by other distinguished men, e.g., Cardinal Passionei and Cardinal Quirini, Bishop of Brescia, whose diligent searches were prolific of important results.
Italy is particularly rich in valuable collections of antique Christian relics. In Rome, besides the Christian Museums of the Vatican and the Veteran the Museo Kircheriano and the San Paolo, Propaganda, and Campo Santo collections are all noteworthy. The atria of certain churches, e.g., St. Mark Santa Maria in Trastevere and St Agnes, also the Grotte Vaticane, have Christian inscriptions or sculptures, and collections of inscriptions have been made in the vicinity of several Roman catacombs, e.g., St. Domitilla and St. Agnes; mention should be made also of private collections. Moreover, almost all the large museums of Italy and the treasuries of some churches have objects belonging to the early Christian era, e.g., the Museum and Library of Brescia and those of the Uffizi at Florence, the municipal uries of the cathedrals of Milan and Monza, the Museo Nazionale at Palermo, the Museum of the Villa Cassia at Syracuse, etc. Outside of Italy, important collections of Christian antiquities are less numerous, although those of Cairo, A!exandria, Athens, of St. Louis of Carthage (the Lavigerie Museum), of Arles, Autun, Trier, etc. deserve mention. The museums of the great capitals, London, Paris, Berlin, etc., and the treasuries of some churches, e.g., the cathedral of Sens, have ivories and various woven stuffs dating from the early Christian epoch. Such woven stuffs, principally of Coptic origin, and very ancient, have lately been introduced into many collections. Church treasuries, especially the richer ones of some German churches (cathedrals of Cologne, Trier, Hildesheim, Bamberg and the abbatial church of Essen, etc.), are noted for their medieval relics and may pass for the oldest Christian museums.
In addition to the large museums of all countries, many museums of industrial art, provincial museums, private collections and archaeological societies, also episcopal museums, e.g., the rich ones of Cologne and Utrecht, contain many valuable and ancient Christian relics of an artistic kind. As a Christian museum of the Middle Ages, the Schnutgen collection at Cologne deserves special notice. It contains many religious objects, chalices, crosses, ecclesiastical vestments, etc., and offers a better opportunity than any other collation for studying the changing forms of these objects from age to age. A word is due to the museums of copies or reproductions annexed to certain institutions of higher education. The most remarkable Christian museum of this kind is that of the University of Berlin, founded 1849-1855 by Ferdinand Piper. Although largely representative of the Middle Ages, it is unparalleled for its facsimiles of Christian antiquities. More recently M.G. Millet founded at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, in Paris, a Byzantine museum, rich in copies and stereotypes gathered during the explorations and study tours made by French scholars. (See LATERAN, CHRISTIAN MUSEUM OF; VATICAN.)
KAUFMANN, Handbuch der christlichen Archdologie (Paderborn, 1905), 67 sq ., 74; LECLERCQ, Manuel d' Archeolozie chretienne (Paris, 1907), I, 429; KRAUS, Realencyclopadie (Freiburg, 1886), s. v. Topographie; FORRER AND FISCHBER, Adresbuch der Museen, Bibliotheken, Sammler und Antiquare (Strasburg, 1896).