The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

Ethiopia’s Links with Westminster Abbey

Author - Christopher Collier-Wright


Monument to Ann Filding in the south wall of the nave.
Photo - © Dean and Chapter of Westminster - 2006

Among the monuments to the great and the good in Westminster Abbey, it is perhaps salutary to come across the occasional memorial recording the life of someone of modest achievement. One such, located on the south wall of the nave, testifies to the life of Ann (née Filding) who died in 1680 aged 19. Ann’s only recorded achievement is to have been the third wife of Sir Samuel Morland Bt. (1625-95), described by Dean Stanley of Westminster as the “perfidious secretary of Oliver Cromwell, more creditably known as the first inventor of the speaking-trumpet, the fire-engine, the calculating-machine and … even the steam-engine.” Morland commissioned the sculptor William Stanton to create an extravagant memorial to his second and third wives, incorporating quotations in Hebrew, Greek, English and …Ethiopic (Ge’ez).

Edward Ullendorff’s article “An Ethiopic Inscription in Westminster Abbey” published in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (July 1992) informs us that Morland’s career does not produce “even the slightest hint of any connection with things Ethiopian” and adds “The same is true, a fortiori, of his young wife Ann Filding.” However, Morland was in contact with the Ethiopic scholar Job Ludolf (1624-1704) who was the author of the five-line ode in the monument, as indicated by a reference to the monument in the Praefatio of his Grammatica Aethiopica. Latin scholars will note Ludolf’s dissatisfaction at the failure of Morland to attribute the Ethiopic ode: Nobis idem fere contigit, ut ad instantiam Samuelis Morlandi, Equitis Angli, quinionem Aethiopicum in honorem defunctae Uxoris componeremus, quem ille, nobis insciis, in Basilica West-Monasteriensi juxta illius sepulchrum marmori insculpi curavit, non addito nomine nostro.

Translated from the Ge’ez, the ode reads:

Come let us weep with her honoured husband
For her who passed away while her trust was in Christ
This lady, righteous and firm in her faith,
Humble and chaste while she was alive,
Praised and blessed is in her death.

Ullendorff confirms that the Ethiopic characters “are executed with great skill and in a highly authentic ductus.”

Ethiopian silver gilt cross.
Photo - © Dean and Chapter of Westminster - 2006

Two processional crosses with Ethiopian connections are to be found in the sanctuary of the Quire, close to the high altar. The first of these crosses is of silver gilt, “overlaid at the back with a network of wirework soldered and gilt”.

This cross has a staff of ebony with a cop (cover) of metal gilt engraved in Amharic and Latin. The latter inscription reads Pro salute Regis Edwardi dedit Ras Makunan Imperatoris Aethiopi Legatus VIII Kal Jul MCMII. (Given by Ras Makunan Ambassador of the Emperor of Ethiopia to greet King Edward 8 Kalends (July) 1902). It was sent by Emperor Menelik to mark King Edward VII’s coronation, originally planned for 26 June 1902 (Gregorian calendar, corresponding to 8 July in the Julian calendar). In fact the coronation was delayed to 9 August 1902 on account of the King’s illness.

The second processional cross within the sanctuary was made by English craftsmen out of a large ivory tusk presented to the Abbey in 1924 by Ras Tafari Makonnen, Prince Regent, later Emperor Haile Selassie. This cross has fleur de lys terminations and is decorated with enamelled shields, one of which depicts the Lion of Judah. It was dedicated by the Dean of Westminster in 1940.

Ivory cross.
Photo - © Dean and Chapter of Westminster - 2006

Leonard Mosley in Haile Selassie, The Conquering Lion (1964) quotes a leading article from The Times of July 7, 1924 which refers in somewhat fulsome terms to the visits to London by Ras Tafari and his father, Ras Makunan (Makonnen): “The arrival of Prince Tafari Makonnen in London today is an historical event, for never in the history of the royal house of Ethiopia, which is descended by tradition from the issue of King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, has an Abyssinian monarch or heir to the throne been known to quit his native mountains in the heart of Africa. The tremendous rupture with the past which his journey involves shows the boldness, the enlightenment and the resolution of the prince’s character. A visit to London has long been his cherished ambition, planted in his youthful heart by the example of his late father, Ras Makonnen, who was special envoy of the late Emperor Menelik at the Coronation of Kind Edward VII. He brought with him a gift of a processional cross which still stands in the nave of Westminster Abbey, for the Abyssinians are among the earliest of Christian people.”

There must be many more links between English churches and cathedrals and Ethiopia. Perhaps members of the Society might like to report any findings.

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Ben Sheward (Verger), Dr Richard Mortimer (Keeper of the Muniments) and Christine Reynolds (Assistant Keeper of the Muniments) for their help in the preparation of this feature and for their permission to use the photographs on the website.


P.S. A related Ethiopian connection in York Minster.

Evidently, the silver cross soon had its admirers, one of whom was Dean Purey-Cust of York. Visitors to York Minster can see in the south choir aisle a large patterned silver gilt processional cross. A notice by it states that it was presented to the Minster in 1912 by M C M Forbes, and that “The design, by Sir Walter Tapper, is based on that of an Abyssinian cross given to Westminster Abbey in 1902.”

First Published in News File Spring 2007

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