St. Ottilien Archabbey is Germany‘s oldest catholic mission house. In November 1887, the first Missionary Benedictines from the still young monastic community set out to East Africa.
On suggestion of the community’ superior, Fr. Andreas Amrhein OSB, objects from the missionaries’ living environment were sent to St. Ottilien. These folkloristic, artistic and religious artefacts, animal hides and plants served for instruction of young men who had newly joined the monastic community in order to prepare them for their future activities in the mission area.
Fr. Andreas Amrhein was like his successors convinced that mission in foreign cultures on an equal level was not possible without a thorough knowledge of language, culture, religion and the indigenous people's way of life.
The collection grew quickly; as early as 1891, plans for a museum were discussed. In 1896, the annals of the Archabbey mention an “Africa Museum” for the first time. Fr. Dominikus Enshoff OSB, then mission procurator, was the initiator. First Archabbot Norbert Weber OSB (1870 - 1956) supported the establishment and expansion of the museum.
In 1902/03, the Africa Museum moved to an annex of the today no longer existing port building in front of the monastery’s east front which was built for this purpose. The structure was full of atmosphere but inconvenient; the objects were exposed to the ingression of rain and to the summer sun.
Therefore, the museum was moved to what is today the old part of St. Ottilien’s retreat house in 1907/08. The zoological and ethnological collections which were presented separately to this time, were combined.
With plans for a new monastery building between church and south wing, larger facilities for a museum and a taxidermist’s workshop were provided. From September 1911, the exhibits were moved in stages to the new rooms. Trained ethnologist Fr. Meinulf Küsters OSB, one of the collectors, structured the presentation.
Expansion and change of name
With the expansion of the mission to Korea from 1909, another department was added to the museum. The Africa Museum was re-named to "Mission Museum".
Besides ethnological and natural history specimens, arranged scenes with life size figures like e.g. treatment of lepers by a missionary sister were on display. These scenes can be seen on old post cards and leporellos; they were removed in the 1950ies.
Time and again, objects from the inventory were on loan for exhibitions, e.g. for the 1925 World Mission Fair in Rome or the Eucharistic World Congress 1960 in Munich.
From 1935, the inventory hardly increased in numbers and was supplemented until the 1970ies only by new craftwork such as acquisitions purchased in the art trade and gifts the abbots received on their official travels.
Renovation and re-orientation
Between 2011 and 2015, museum and depository were extensively renovated for climate control to ensure preservation of the collections and the historical presentation for the long term. The permanent exhibition was redesigned and enhanced with a modern pedagogical concept.
In parallel, the inventory was catalogued and scientifically explored by experts; provenance research was completed in 2018.
In its orientation and connection to St. Ottilien Archabbey, our museum still follows the tradition of missionary collections. Until today, the exhibition is integrated into the training of candidates for entry to the monastery's community to explain the abbey's historic development.
Scientific research and modern museum work open up the inventory and guarantee the museum's sustainability. It is our goal to develop the permanent exhibition to a multi-faceted contact zone including cultures of origin.