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348Ethiopians rejoice at return of religious relic

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  • Thomas Daniel
    Feb 10, 2002
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      Ethiopians rejoice at return of religious relic

      By Tsegaye Tadesse

      ADDIS ABABA, Feb 9 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of faithful lined the streets of Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa on Saturday in a colourful celebration of the return of a sacred artefact, 134 years after it was plundered by British soldiers.

      Church bells chimed as people congregated along flag-festooned avenues leading from the capital's international airport to the city's Trinity Cathedral where the intricately carved tablet, officially called a tabot, will be housed.

      The 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 centrepiece of the country's Orthodox religion and are kept in almost every Ethiopian church to symbolise the biblical ark.

      The historic wooden block 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 Tewudros.

      It was recently unearthed from the dusty cupboard of a Scottish church and handed back to Ethiopia last month.

      Government officials, diplomats and priests attired in colourful ceremonial robes sang hymns and women ululated as the plane bearing the tabot touched down at Bole International Airport on Saturday morning.

      "We thank the Almighty God for enabling us, that what has been taken from us through violence and war is returned to us through peaceful means," said Abuna Paulos, the patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. "This is a victory for Ethiopia."

      Paulos, who accompanied the tabot from Britain, gave benedictions at a brief ceremony held at the airport and blessed the crowds before leading a procession to Trinity Cathedral.

      Many in the crowd kissed the ground as the procession passed by. Some shed tears of joy and others blocked the road to get a glimpse of the artefact.

      Reverend John McLuckie from the Episcopal Church of St John the Evangelist in Edinburgh, Scotland, stumbled upon the wooden symbol in a battered leather box while looking for a communion set early last year.

      It was stolen 134 years ago when British troops stormed Emperor Tewudros's fortress at Maqdala and loaded 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 Victoria & Albert museums, the British Library, and the Royal Library at Windsor Castle, historians said.

      Paulos asked the British Museum earlier this week to hand back 10 more sacred tabots looted at the same time.



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