Ethiopian Tabot within London’s Westminster Abbey

An Orthodox priest carries a covered tabot—a sacred object—in a ceremony in Gondar, Ethiopia

The Ethiopian government is calling for the restitution of a sacred object that is sealed inside an altar in London’s Westminster Abbey. The object, known as a tabot, is a tablet that symbolically represents the Ark of the Covenant and the Ten Commandments. Every Ethiopian church houses a covered tabot, which is regarded as sacrosanct and must be seen only by the priest.

Westminster Abbey’s tabot was looted at the battle of Maqdala (formerly Magdala) in 1868, when British troops attacked the forces of the Ethiopian emperor Tewodros.

Last month(2018), following publicity surrounding the opening of the abbey’s museum, the Ethiopian ambassador in London reiterated his government’s claim. Hailemichael Aberra Afework told The Art Newspaper: “We are urging all those who hold items looted from Ethiopia to return them. This includes the tabot held at Westminster Abbey.” It would be inappropriate for a tabot to be displayed in a museum, so he believes that it should be returned to a church, with the Ethiopian synod permitted to decide which one.