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Petition sent to Westminster Abbey
Petition 17 July 07
Rev John Hall
Ethiopia is on the eve of the new Millennium starting this coming September 2007. This is a perfect time to take courageous steps and return Ethiopia's historical artifacts. We orthodox Christians, Ethiopian citizens of Britain and their supporters are asking Westminster Abbey to return the 'Tabot' or Holy Altar Slab in its possession to Ethiopia and to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
It is widely known that the religious artifact in the possession of Westminster Abbey came to The United Kingdom almost 140 years ago following the British expedition against Emperor Theodros of Ethiopia in 1867-68. The looting of the Emperor's Citadel Maqdala required fifteen elephants and 200 mules to carry it away. These included several ancient manuscripts, Ethiopian crowns, 'Tabots - Holy Altar Slabs - golden church crowns, gold chalices and processional crosses. A testimony of Sir Richard Holmes, "Archaeologist" to the expedition and Assistant Curator in the British Museum's Department of Manuscripts, states:
... while night was falling, he met a British soldier who was carrying the golden crown of the Abun, or head of the Ethiopian church, and a "solid gold chalice" weighing "at least 6 lb".
As the great British leader William Gladstone said in 1871, the looting and possession of these Ethiopian antiquities has no justification and is unlawful. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church artifact at Westminster Abbey has no religious, historical or cultural significance to us here in the UK and little is known about its presence. However, to Ethiopians, it is emotionally significant and an invaluable symbol of their religion, rich history and culture. It is their lawful heritage and they deserve to see it returned to appreciate the religious and cultural heritage of their ancestors.
For the community of St. John's, the repatriation of the Tabot can be for us the chance to meet Christian brothers and sisters from another tradition and express something of that hope for an alternative world order of partnership. It is also an opportunity for penitence for an act of desecration committed in the name of our nation ...
Demands for restitution have been made in more recent years by the Association for the Return of Ethiopian Maqdala Treasures (AFROMET) which is based in both Ethiopia and Britain. International justice requires all looted Ethiopian antiquities be returned to Ethiopia. The return of Maqdala's looted symbolic treasures is an act of justice and solidarity and contributes to a common goal of building a more just global order through partnership.
The Ethiopian Millennium provides a perfect opportunity and our wish for the Ethiopian Millennium is that Westminster Abbey should, without delay, demonstrate Christian brotherhood and return the Ethiopian Orthodox Church 'Tabot' to Ethiopia and to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.
Orthodox Christians, Ethiopian citizens of Britain and their supporters
Dr Berhanu Kassayie
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