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Sunday, 27 January, 2002, 15:28 GMT
Ethiopian artefact returning home
Ethiopian priest Arch Mandrite Abba Markos (centre) carries the tabot
The ceremony was held in the Scottish capital
A delegation of religious leaders from Ethiopia has travelled to Edinburgh to collect a sacred carving which was unearthed in a church cupboard.

The holy wooden tabot, or tablet, is thought to be more than 400 years old.

It is believed that it was taken from Ethiopia by British soldiers trying to free hostages from the home of Emperor Theodore the Second in 1868.

Ethiopian tablet
The tablet can only be seen by priests

Some 200 mules and 15 elephants were loaded with plunder after victorious British forces stormed the mountain fortress at Maqdala.

The treasure - which included solid gold crowns - was bought up by many respected UK institutions, including the British Museum.

The tabot was brought to the Princes Street church in Edinburgh by a soldier returning from the campaign.

Significance

It was discovered by the Rev John McLuckie in a battered leather box while he was looking for a communion set in a cupboard at St John's last October.

Mr McLuckie recognised the carved piece of wood as he had worked in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, and he recognised its religious significance.

The tabot - a 6" square carved with an Ethiopian inscription - represents the ark of the covenant and is sacred to Ethiopia's Orthodox Christians.

Mr McLuckie said: "It was very exciting because I knew it was an object of great significance and holiness.

Stolen artefacts

"I was also slightly surprised that we had one and slightly shocked that we should be keeping it in a cupboard when it is something of such significance to Ethiopian Christians."

Ephrem Mehret-ab, a spokesman for the delegation, praised the church for returning the artefact.

The Scottish Episcopal Church has called on all other artefacts stolen from Africa to be returned.

The country has been campaigning to get back hundreds of precious manuscripts, crowns and other sacred items ever since.


The Tabot is part of our history and tradition and it's rightfully ours

Ephrem Mehret-ab

Ephrem Mehret-ab said: "No-one can underestimate just how significant and joyful this hand-over is.

"The people of my country, a number of whom travelled here to see this, are simply delighted.

"The Tabot is part of our history and tradition and it's rightfully ours.

"What this event in Edinburgh symbolises is a beginning and we hope others take note and wake up to the fact that they have property, very secret and irreplaceable property, which does not belong."

Judy Holland spokeswoman for Afromet (Association For The Return Of The Magdala Ethiopian Treasures) said: "We were surprised but thrilled when we heard this Tabot had been found here and that it was being given back.

"This is as significant to Ethiopia as The Elgin Marbles are to Scotland, so we think Scots understand exactly what this gesture means."

See also:

05 Dec 01 | Scotland
Sacred artefact found in cupboard
20 Jul 01 | Africa
Italy to keep Ethiopian monument
22 Jun 01 | Africa
No return for Ethiopian treasure
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