- Museum number
Censer with lid; made of silver. Square container on a pyramidal base, engraved with serpentine motifs. Container is engraved on all sides with pairs of angels with their wings crossed in front of them in fear of divine glory. Four suspension points, one in the centre of each side and suspension points at each corner, only one of which has a spherical silver bell. Separate arched lid is cut away with rows of four crosses with cut-out and solid form creating cruciform motifs. Lid is surmounted with an open work box and an ornate cross with suspension loop.
- Production date
Height: 28.50 centimetres (including lid)
Width: 13 centimetres
Depth: 7 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 censor is rhythmically swung from long chains to waft the incense during religious services and processions. Ash from the censer is believed to be imbued with power to heal the sick and is considered holy.
Part of a collection of material taken from the fortress of Emperor Tewodros II (reigned 1855-1868) at Maqdala during the Abyssinian Campaign (1867-1868). Tewodros had sought to bring the whole of Ethiopia under his control through military campaigns. During these conquests, he took books, holy relics and manuscripts from churches throughout Ethiopia, and particularly from Gondar, with the intention of establishing Maqdala as a seat of learning and research. By 1868, the treasury and church store included hundreds of manuscripts and many fine examples of liturgical objects and art including textiles, paintings, and metal work.
The British Expedition to Abyssinia (now Ethiopia) 1867-1868 culminated in a military assault on Maqdala on 13 April 1868. Tewodros committed suicide, rather than be taken prisoner. Hundreds of his soldiers were killed and many thousands injured. The treasury, church and royal household were plundered by the British and Indian troops. Maqdala was destroyed by military order on 17 April 1868. Much of the plundered material was reassembled by an Army Prize Committee and sold at an auction of loot on the nearby Delanta Plain, 20 – 21 April 1868.
See Collection File Af1868,1230.1-21
- Not on display
- Exhibition history
2017-2018 2 Nov-8 Apr, BM Gallery 35, Living with gods
1978, London, British Museum, Christian Orient
- Associated events
Associated Event: Abyssinian Campaign 1867 - 1868
Associated Event: Battle of Maqdala 13 Apr 1868
- Acquisition date
- Acquisition notes
- Part of a collection of objects sent to the British Museum by the India Office on 28 December 1868. This donation was described as ‘cases of Abyssinian trophies’ see letter from Mr Peul to J Winter Jones, 28th Jan 1869 (British Museum Central Archive, Original Papers, vol 97 Dec 1868 – Feb 1869, no. 1160). A list of the objects: ‘List of Abyssinian relics forwarded to the British Museum, 28 Dec 1868’ from the Military Department of the India Office is included in Collection File Af1868,1230.1-21. Included in this list is '1 insence burner in two parts. Top loose and tied with string.'
This donation came through Sir Stafford Henry Northcote (Secretary of State for India, 1867-1868) and he is named on the register. However, the Trustees Standing Committee Minutes record that these objects (‘arms, tents, cloths and other articles of native manufacture’) were ‘purchased in Abyssinia by Lord Napier of Magdala’ (British Museum Central Archive, Trustees Standing Committee Minutes, 9th January 1869, no. 11585 – 11586).
- Africa, Oceania and the Americas
- Registration number