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Saturday, 9 February, 2002, 16:53 GMT
Ethiopia hails return of sacred artefact
Priest carries the 400-year-old tabot
The "tabot" was carried on a priest's head
By the BBC's Nita Bhalla in Addis Ababa

Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians have packed the streets of Addis Ababa to welcome home an ancient Ethiopian relic looted by British troops more than 130 years ago.

We must be happy and celebrate today as a national holiday for what we lost in violence, we have gained in peace

Ethiopian church elder
The 400-year-old "tabot" - a replica of the Ark of the Covenant - was found in a Scottish Church in December.

It was handed over to a delegation from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church last month, who travelled to Edinburgh to receive it.

In a colourful celebration at Addis Ababa's Trinity Cathedral, Ethiopians rejoiced at the return of the tabot to its rightful home.

Excitement and pride filled in the air as the plane carrying the ancient Ethiopian artefact landed at Ethiopia's Bole International airport on Saturday morning.


Many Ethiopians gathered outside the airport to catch a glimpse of the tabot, held sacred to the 25 million-strong Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Hundreds of thousands arrived at the airport to witness the tabot's return

Adorned in resplendent vestments made of bright velvet and gold and carrying silver and gold processional crosses, thousands of priests and religious elders from Addis Ababa's 106 Orthodox churches led a procession from the airport to Addis Ababa's Trinity Cathedral, where the wooden relic will be stored.

Beating drums, they chanted in the ancient language of Ge'ez welcoming the tabot home.

Ethiopians sang and danced alongside the processional cortege as it made the four hour journey along the 11 km (7 miles) route to the cathedral.


The tabot of St Michael, which can only be seen by priests, was covered in gold embroidered velvets and silks and mounted on the head of a chosen priest in the true tradition of the 2,000-year-old Ethiopian Orthodox Church.

Ethiopian women singing
Ethiopians lined the streets to celebrate the tabot's return

Ethiopian ministers, diplomats, heads of agencies and tourists joined the crowds at Trinity Cathedral to welcome the tabot, which was looted from the Ethiopian fortress of Maqdala by British forces in the 19th century.

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

Looted treasures
11 tabots
500 manuscripts
two gold crowns
royal vestments
precious icons

The treasures include 10 other ancient tabots, 500 ancient parchment manuscripts, two gold crowns, crosses and chalices in gold, silver and copper, religious icons, royal and ecclesiastic vestments as well as shields and arms made between the 14th and 19th centuries.

Historic day

Teshome Toga, Ethiopia's Minister for Youth, Sports and Culture said it was a historic day for all Ethiopians.

Ethiopian man holds candle
Ethiopians from all walks of life celebrated the tabot's return

"We are all excited and we think that it will be good start to bring back all our cultural heritages."

The Patriarch of the church, Abune Paulos, said it was impossible to describe how Ethiopia was feeling on this historic day.

"You can sense the feeling of the people on the streets today, it is beyond all explanation."

Ethiopians on the streets did not hesitate to express how they were feeling.

"It is a victory for the Ethiopians over the British," said one man.

"We must be happy and celebrate today as a national holiday for what we lost in violence, we have gained in peace," said one church elder.

Ethiopians now say they hope that this may lead to the return of all other ancient Ethiopian relics currently still on display in British museums.

See also:

27 Jan 02 | Scotland
Ethiopian artefact returning home
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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