Our Mission Statement

St. Ottilien Archabbey is Germany‘s oldest catholic mission house. Since 1887, the Missionary Benedictines acquired objects from the mission fields to establish a collection for educating the future missionaries in the motherhouse. The museum was founded in 1896 and moved to its present premises in 1911; in the early 1920ies, it opened to the public. Until the 1970ies, purchases and craft objects the abbots got as presents on their visits enhanced the collection. We regard the objects of our museum historic heritage; they reflect the history of the St. Ottilien Missionary Benedictines.

Besides ethnological and natural history aspects, as a museum of a missionary house we emphasize mediation of life and work of the Missionary Benedictines then and now on the aims of education, social engagement, healthcare and pastoral. The exhibits of the permanent collection show a representative cross-section of our object inventory. Small special exhibits, also published in digital form, present objects from our depository.

Responsibilities of our museum

Missionary collections like ours differ in essential aspects from ethnological museums. However, since the renovation (2011-2015) we apply the same International Council of Museums (ICOM) standards to our work as state ethnological museums.

We appreciate our collections as part of mankind‘s cultural memory; therefore, preservation and management of the objects we keep as a substitute for the source communities is important to us. Digitization, scientific research, content-related evaluation and provenance research of our collections is completed. We supervise doctoral students who do research on museum objects or investigate aspects of St. Ottilien’s missionary work to learn more about our collection. As part of a network of German and international museums and other organizations, we lend objects for exhibitions to promote cultural exchange.

Visualization and knowledge transfer are key areas of our work. By our low-threshold offers, we want to reach people of all ages. We invite our visitors with pedagogical offers to explore cultures partially or completely lost in their countries of origin. We understand that the objects of our collection are “ambassadors” of these cultures encouraging our visitors to understand and appreciate living environments different from their own.

Provenance Research and Restitution

We are aware of the historic responsibilities that come along with the collected cultural heritage, especially concerning the current discussion about provenance and restitution. As is typical for missionary collections, we hardly find any evidence about the context of acquisition of our objects. We have to deal with this empty space around the assumed or real context of injustice from the colonial past.

The museum’s restitution concept emphasizes our willingness for dialog and collaboration with the source communities. Since 15 years, we are partners for scientific exchange and collaboration with South Korea. Our excellent and fruitful cooperations are expressed by several donations and returns from our collections. For East Africa and South Africa, there are presently no requests for a restitution of objects nor requests fro collaboration.

The museum‘s management team collaborates with committees of the religious orders’ representative bodies in Germany concerning preservation and research in missionary collections and coming to terms with Germany’s colonial past.

We are in contact with organizations of the German Federal Government like the German Lost Art Foundation; we are part of the Arbeitskreis Provenienzforschung e.V. (Task Force Provenance Research; and we are committed to the 3-ways-strategy (3-Wege-Strategie) by the German Contact Point for Collections from Colonial Contexts whose long-term aim is access to all information from European museums for the source communities.


Repeatedly we critically address our mission statement and adapt it to the current requirements for us as a leading institution of missionary collections in Germany.