They’re hidden non secular treasures which have been within the British Museum’s shops for greater than 150 years, by no means on public show – with members of the general public strictly forbidden from seeing them.

Now hopes have been raised that Ethiopian tabots, looted by the British after the battle of Maqdala in 1868, might lastly be returned dwelling following a brand new authorized opinion and an enchantment backed by Stephen Fry, the writer Lemn Sissay and the previous archbishop of Canterbury George Carey.

The wooden and stone tabots are altar tablets, thought-about by the Ethiopian Orthodox Church because the dwelling place of God on Earth and the illustration of the Ark of the Covenant. They’ve, everybody agrees, big non secular and spiritual worth for the individuals of Ethiopia.

A letter has been despatched to British Museum trustees signed by supporters together with Fry, Sissay, the actor Rupert Everett and the previous British ambassador to Ethiopia Sir Harold Walker. It says the museum has acknowledged the sanctity of the tabots and has by no means put them on show, allowed them to be studied, copied or photographed. “As a substitute, they sit within the vaults, the place they continue to be over 150 years later, unknown to the overwhelming majority of individuals of this nation.”

It continues: “We consider that in the present day the British Museum has a singular alternative to construct a long-lasting and significant bridge of friendship between Britain and Ethiopia by handing the tabots again to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church.”

Plenty of makes an attempt have been made by Ethiopia to get the tabots returned however the museum argues it’s forbidden by the British Museum Act of 1963 to restitute objects in its assortment.

Campaigners sought a brand new authorized opinion that proves, they are saying, that the tabots might be legally returned.

The opinion, seen by the Guardian, has been drawn up Samantha Knights QC and was commissioned by the Scheherazade Basis. It factors out that the 1963 act has a provision that permits disposal of objects “unfit to be retained” and that may be disposed “with out detriment to the pursuits of scholars”.

It argues the tabots fall inside this class, that they’ve “no obvious use or relevance to the museum”.

The web site has no picture of them and solely the briefest of descriptions. “As such they’re presently and apparently at all times have been in impact handled very otherwise to the remainder of the gathering and could possibly be correctly mentioned to be ‘unfit to be retained’.”

On the query of detriment to college students, no scholar is permitted to review them, the doc says.

Eleven tabots are within the museum assortment; 9 might be immediately linked to British looting after the Battle of Maqdala in 1868, an occasion that happened after the Emperor Tewodros II had taken British hostages. Greater than 500 Ethiopian troopers had been killed and the emperor killed himself moderately than be taken prisoner.

Tons of of objects had been subsequently plundered. They’re in numerous collections. The V&A, which has Maqdala treasures together with a gold crown and a royal wedding ceremony gown, has floated the concept of a long-term mortgage.

The British Museum mentioned in an announcement: “These paperwork have to be reviewed and addressed with full consideration, and extra time is required earlier than this may be checked out by trustees.”

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