The most unusual Catholic museums in the world

The Chaldean museum in Basra

Last week saw the opening of a new museum dedicated to the life and work of Russia’s first president, Boris Yeltsin. Opened by Vladimir Putin, this new tourist attraction contains a recreation of Yeltsin’s office in the Kremlin along with his original briefcase containing the “nuclear button”. The museum charts that massive changes that Russia experienced during the 1990s and in the words of Putin it is a “Tribute to the memory of Russia’s first president”. Other exhibits include a mock-up of an empty grocery store and a typical living room of the time.

Certainly it can be added to the list of the most unusual museums in the world. It will be interesting to see how popular it may become. As Catholics we too can claim to possess some of the oddest museums. Here is a list of the most unusual throughout the world,


The Nun Doll Museum, Michigan
While not on every tourists “to do” list, this museum is, surprisingly, free to enter, and every year over 300,000 visitors visit the attraction. The museum is home to over 500 dolls and mannequins displaying the traditional habits of American religious communities.

The collection started in the 1940s, when one woman, Sally Rogalski, started dressing her dolls in nun’s habits. In 1964 she and her husband donated 230 dolls to the museum and since this time the collection has grown. Each year new dolls are added. For those with wider interests there is also a section of the museum that depicts diocesan clergy, bishops and male religious.

In 1998 Pope St John Paul II offered a papal blessing to the museum and thanked the Rogalskis for their hard work in helping to promote vocations.

The Chaldean Museum, Basra 
While not unusual in itself, this attraction makes the list as it is possibly the most dangerous Catholic museum in the world. The collection has only recently opened and contains many artefacts, books, paintings and musical instruments. Material was gathered from all over Iraq when the museum was established by the Archbishop of Basra and South Iraq.

At one time Basra had a significant Christian population but this has dwindled significantly over the last 10 years; it is estimated that 90 per cent of Christians have fled. This museum has an important role in preserving the history of the faith and promoting the continuing role of Catholics in the reconstruction of Iraq.

The Museum of Purgatory, Rome
Rome’s smallest and arguably oddest museum is located on the banks of the Tiber at the rear of the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragfio. The museum was founded over a century ago by Victor Jouet a French missionary and avid collector. He was inspired to found the museum after a fire damaged part of the Chiesa del Sacro Cuore del Suffragfio. Jouet believed that a scorched image of a face of a trapped soul was left following the fire.

Today the museum contains a collection of prayer books, missals, clothing and other articles that are claimed to have been singed by the hands of souls in purgatory. Sadly there is no café or gift shop.

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The Archbishop Sheen Museum, Peoria, Illinois
This museum contains several collections relating to Archbishop Sheen’s life. On show are vestments, writings, books, photographs and personal items which aim to tell about Sheen’s life and ministry. The museum is located a few streets away from St Mary’s Cathedral where Fulton Sheen was ordained.

Sheen was Bi-ritual, meaning that he could celebrate in the Latin and Byzantine rites of the Church. This is reflected in the museum’s Byzantine collection. The aim of the collection is to promote Sheen’s cause for canonisation and ensure that he is more widely known. There is a second, unofficial museum, in Sheen’s home town of El Passo, Illinois.

The Museum of Our Lord in the Attic, Amsterdam
The museum with the most unusual name actually is a place that inspires many of those who pay a visit. Claiming to be the second oldest museum in the City, it today attracts many thousands of visitors each year.

The museum contains many religious artefacts, including items relating to the time of religious persecution in the city. The main feature of the museum is a hidden chapel. In around 1661, Jan Hartman converted his attic and those of adjoining houses into a chapel, which explains why the museum is named as such. Small groups met there for worship in secret. Today the attraction speaks of the dangers of religious intolerance.

The Museum of Divine Statues, Lakewood, Ohio 
This museum does exactly what it says. Today it contains more than 60 life-sized statues housed in a former church building. Most of the statues have been reclaimed from Churches and convents from across the USA which have closed.

Many of the statues are of familiar figures but lesser known examples are also presented. The diversity of statues highlights the multi-ethnic composition of the Catholic Church in America. The curator, Lou Mclung, hopes that other dioceses will loan statues and images so that displays can be changed regularly.