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One of at least 11 Tabots (consecrated altar slabs) seized at Maqdala by British soldiers. This one was taken by a Captain Arbuthnot of the 14th Hussars who may have been an Aide de Camp to General Napier, the leader of the expedition.
On return to Britain, recognising the religious significance of the artefact, he presented the Tabot to St. John's Episcopal Church at the west end of Princes Street in Edinburgh.
More than 130 years later, it was discovered at the back of a cupboard by the church's associate rector The Rev John McLuckie.
Mr McLuckie, who had worked in Addis Ababa in the past, recognised the Tabot. After consulting with people in his church, and finding about Afromet through the internet, he decided to return the Tabot to Ethiopia.
A party from the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, along with hundreds of Afromet supporters, arrived in Edinburgh in January 2002. The Tabot was handed back amid huge celebrations during a service at St John's. (See The Scotsman's picture of the handover ceremony)
Archbishop Isaias of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church arrived in Addis Ababa with the Tabot in early February. Hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians came out into the streets to welcome it.
A Tabot is traditionally kept wrapped in cloths at the centre of an Ethiopian Orthodox church.
It focuses the presence of God in every Ethiopian church. Its removal is an act of sacrilege comparable to the removal of the Reserved Sacrament in an Anglican or Catholic church.
It is only ever seen by the priest and represents the Ark of the Covenant, which the Israelites used to carry the Ten Commandments as they travelled to the Promised Land. Ethiopian Christians believe they still possess the original Ark.
Some clues about how it came to Edinburgh in the first place are found in a letter currently kept in the National Archives of Scotland in Edinburgh. Here it is:
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The British Library
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