Westminster Abbey has tentatively agreed to return a significant religious tablet to Ethiopia.

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The Westminster Abbey has tentatively agreed to returning a sacred tablet to the Ethiopian Orthodox church, sparking a discussion about restitution demands from the East African country.

The tabot, a charred wooden slab with a carved inscription representing the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments, has been in the possession of the Abbey since British troops brought it back after looting it during the Battle of Maqdala in 1868.

According to the Art Newspaper, the tabot may soon be returned to its country of origin, 156 years after it was taken. A representative for Westminster Abbey stated that the Dean and Chapter have agreed in principle to return the Ethiopian tabot to the Ethiopian church.

“We are currently exploring the most effective approach to accomplish this goal and actively engaging in conversations with representatives from the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo church. This is a multifaceted issue and may require some time to resolve.”

Westminster Abbey is directly under the monarch’s jurisdiction, which means that King Charles (the supreme governor of the Church of England) may have to give the tabot’s return his blessing.

Westminster Abbey did not confirm what triggered the change of position, but there has been growing pressure on all European institutions that hold items taken during the colonial era. Several of the Benin bronzes, which were looted by British forces in 1897 from what is now Nigeria, have been returned by British institutions after decades of campaigning.

Westminster Abbey’s decision will increase the expectations on the British Museum, as it currently holds 11 tabots in its collection that are not publicly displayed but can be accessed by Ethiopian Orthodox priests.

A representative from the British Museum stated that their collection showcases the cultural accomplishments of humans spanning 2 million years. The inclusion of tabots and other items from Ethiopia highlights the wide range and variety of religious practices in the country, such as Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other beliefs.

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The museum has maintained its stance of eventually loaning the items to a UK-based Ethiopian Orthodox church, where they will be looked after by clergy in accordance with their customs.

However, Ethiopian religious leaders have expressed doubt about achieving this goal, citing the expensive insurance costs associated with loaning these historical pieces to British churches.

Rev. Gebre Georgis Dimtsu, from the Debre Bisrat St. Gabriel church located in East London, stated to the Guardian that his church does not have the means to accommodate a tabot and he strongly feels that it should be returned to Ethiopia permanently. He believes that the tabot should be brought back to its rightful place where people have been worshipping for many years.

Several tabots that were found in British institutions have been successfully returned. One of them was discovered in a church cupboard in Edinburgh 23 years ago and was promptly sent back to Ethiopia.

Upon the return of the artefact to the country, which has long been requesting the return of its tabots, a national holiday was announced and a large crowd gathered in Addis Ababa to witness its arrival.

Source: theguardian.com

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