The Anglo-Ethiopian Society

The Magdala Treasures

Author - Anne Parsons

An article by Martin Bailey in the October 2004 issue of the Art Newspaper (pages 15, 18-19) discusses in some depth the current situation regarding the 'Magdala treasures'.

Mr Bailey is an art historian and provides background as to how the objects arrived not only in UK national collections (such as the British Library, British Museum, and Victoria & Albert Museum) but into the Royal Collection and into the ownership of the British Government. Two calls are being made for the return of these objects to Ethiopia. The first by AFROMET (the Association for the Return of the Magdala Ethiopian Treasures), is particularly concerned with the 'secular achievements' of Tewodros; the second by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church wants the tabots, that Tewodros had removed from various churches in Ethiopia, returned. The Ethiopian Government has not in recent times made any official claim. It is pointed out that the BM, BL, and V&A cannot legally de-accession their holdings although in some cases the possibility of loans is being considerd (although unlikely to be to Ethiopia). The suitability of some of the proposed homes for these treasures if ever returned to Ethiopia is also discussed.

Martin Bailey concludes the article by suggesting that one positive move might be for the collections with Magdala material to get together on a project to publish an entire catalogue on the web. This is one of the most informative and balanced accounts that I have seen on this issue and is certainly worth reading.

First Published in News File Winter 2004

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