UK to Return Religious Relic to Ethiopia
Saturday January 26 8:08 AM ET
ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - A sacred Ethiopian artifact plundered by British troops 134 years ago will be handed back to a member of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church in Scotland on Sunday, the government said on Saturday.
Archbishop Isaias, a member of the Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, has traveled to Britain to receive the historic wooden block at a ceremony to be held at the Episcopal Church of St. John the Evangelist in Edinburgh, a government statement said.
The Reverend John McLuckie from the Edinburgh church discovered the intricately carved tablet in a battered leather box while looking for a communion set last year.
The tablet, officially called a tabot, bears a picture of the Ark of the Covenant which the Israelites used to house the Ten Commandments as they made their way to the Promised Land.
Tabots, traditionally wrapped in cloths, form the centerpiece of the country's Orthodox religion and are kept in almost every Ethiopian church to symbolize the biblical ark.
The tabot was originally seized when an expeditionary force of British soldiers arrived in Ethiopia in 1868 to avenge the imprisonment of a number of British citizens by Emperor Tewodros.
The troops stormed Tewodros's fortress at Maqdala and then loaded up 15 elephants and 200 mules with looted goods, according to a report written by an American journalist at the time. The emperor committed suicide rather than fall into British hands.
The tabot was bought by a military officer from Edinburgh who set it on a plinth and presented it to his home church.
Much of the rest of the hoard, including more than 1,000 sacred manuscripts, gold crowns belonging to the emperor and processional crosses, ended up in London's British and Victoria & Albert museums, the British Library, and the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, according to the historians.
Britain returned part of the treasure when King George V presented Empress Zawditu with a crown during a visit by Ethiopian Regent Haile Selassie to London in 1924.
The Association for the Return of the Maqdala Ethiopian Treasures accused the British government last year of ignoring its appeal to return the treasures.
The association, a group of historians and academics, plans to ask the Ethiopian parliament to issue a formal request to the British government to return the valuables.
Ethiopia has campaigned for decades for European countries to return stolen artifacts. One of the most prominent campaigns is for the return from Italy of a 3,000-year-old obelisk looted from the holy city of Axum in 1937.