- Museum number
Censer cast in bronze in three parts; base, container and lid, attached to a handle with five chains with multiple bells. The open work pyramidal base is attached to the body of the censer with a large square nail. The square shaped container is inscribed on two sides, has a diamond shaped suspension point on each corner and a centrally placed suspension ring on each side. The open work lid is surmounted with a cross with suspension ring and chain which attaches to a cast, open work handle with cross shaped finial. Four chains pass through the rings on the body and lid and are attached with multiple bells. Tied to one of the chains is a small piece of blue silk thread and a piece of thick white cotton thread. Inner surface of censer is thickly encrusted with burnt incense.
Height: 88 centimetres (to top of handle, chains outstretched)
Height: 29 centimetres (to top of lid)
Width: 11 centimetres
Depth: 11 centimetres
- Curator's comments
Incense plays a vital role within the Ethiopian Church, used in church services and prayers it is seen as an offering to God. Small lighted coals are placed in the chamber of the censer to which incense is added. The censer is rhythmically swung from its long chains to waft the incense during liturgical services and processions. Ash from the censer is believed to be imbued with the power to heal the sick and is considered holy.
See file in Eth Doc 439 in AOA Archives on transfer of these objects from former Medieval & Later Dept.
- Not on display
- Good, the chains have been repaired and some links replaced with white metal links.
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Maqdala, an almost impenetrable mountain top fortress in northern Ethiopia, became the seat of power and a retreat for Emperor Tewodros II (1855-1868). The Emperor intended Maqdala to become his capital and treasury. He collected many manuscripts from churches throughout Ethiopia and brought them to Maqdala with the intention of creating a great library and seat of learning. His treasury included many fine examples of Ethiopian art including textiles, paintings and metal work.
In the 1860s relations between Tewodros and Britain became strained and relations deteriorated further when Tewodros imprisoned the British consul and several European missionaries. In 1867 a military expedition led by Sir Robert Napier was sent to free the British captives with a force made up of 12,000 men from both the British and Indian armies.
At dawn on Easter Monday April 13th 1868, Napier ordered an assault on Maqdala to destroy Tewodros’s stronghold. When his troops entered the fortress they found the Emperor already dead. Rather than surrender, Tewodros had taken his own life using a pistol which had been a gift from Queen Victoria. This last defiant act has immortalised Tewodros as a national hero for many Ethiopians.
Material taken from Maqdala was auctioned soon after on the Delanta plain. Richard Rivington Holmes, an assistant in the manuscripts department of The British Museum, had accompanied the expedition as an archaeologist. He acquired a number of objects for the British Museum, including around 300 manuscripts which are now housed in the British Library. In 1868 the Secretary of State for India, Sir Stafford Henry Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh, donated to The British Museum two further collections of material from Maqdala.
Material from Maqdala can be found in public collections in North America and Europe as well as in private collections worldwide. When the Maqdala collections first entered the British Museum in 1868 they stimulated a worldwide interest in the archaeology, history and culture of Ethiopia which has continued to this day. For Tewodros’ library see Rita Pankhurst ‘The Library of Emperor Tewodros II…’ Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 36(1), 1973 pp 15-42.
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number