Westminster Abbey has been accused of cultural insensitivity after it turned down a request from Ethiopian Christians to pray beside a tablet that the Ethiopian church considers sacred.
Ethiopian Christian clergy requested a prayer session with the tablet last year, said Samuel Berhanu, a deacon in the Ethiopian church in London, in a Saturday report in The Guardian newspaper.
The abbey’s head of communications told Berhanu that the tablet was “in a very sacred place, was properly covered and could not be seen by anyone.”
The small tablet, called a tabot, was looted from Ethiopia in 1868 by a British expedition and donated to the abbey. Tabots are made of stone or wood and considered deeply sacred by the 35 million Ethiopian Christians.
“The tabot is believed by Ethiopian Christians to be the dwelling place of God on Earth, the mercy seat described in the Bible and the representation of the Ark of the Covenant. Every church has at least one tabot which, when consecrated, is kept in the Qeddest Qeddusan (Holy of Holies) where only the clergy may enter,” said Berhanu said.
The clergyman said he was “shocked” that the abbey did not allow the priests to pray with the holy artifact.
“I just couldn’t believe that in the 21st century you could have this mentality whereby they have no regard to cultural, religious issues. They were not even open to discussion,” he said.
In 2010, the abbey ignited controversy when it refused to return the holy tablet to the Ethiopian church.
On Friday, a spokesperson for the abbey said that the chapter had “no plans to change these arrangements.”