Salisbury Cathedral reinterprets 800-year-old Magna Carta in new Chapter House exhibition

By Culture24 Reporter | 18 August 2011
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A photo of a woman standing in front of a display in a gallery
Visitors to Salisbury Cathedral are enjoying a different view of the famous Magna Carta
There are four years to go until the Magna Carta’s 800th anniversary in 2015, but its keepers at Salisbury Cathedral have already started rethinking their presentation of Britain’s first democratic charter.

They’ve laid on a new exhibition next to the hallowed parchment in the Cathedral’s Chapter House, aiming to explain how the Barons of England foisted the decree of rights, taxes and justice upon King John at Runnymede all those centuries ago.

Listed by the United Nations on the Memory of the World Register in 2009, the cathedral watchmen aren’t underestimating the value of their star draw.

“We know how important the Magna Carta is to our visitors,” explains Marketing Director David Coulthard, who says more than half of the site’s overseas visitors cite it as a key reason for paying Wiltshire’s holy landmark a visit.

“Many are in awe of its age and can’t believe they’re seeing the real thing. It’s good news that we are now better able to tell the story and we can already see that people are spending longer in the Chapter House learning how the Charter came to be.”

Coulthard calls it “a foundation stone for modern human rights”, echoing the UN, who declared it “an icon for freedom and democracy throughout the world”. The British Library and Lincoln Cathedral also hold copies, but the Salisbury version is thought to be the best-kept script.

“We are extremely proud to own the finest-preserved of the original documents,” adds Mark Bonney, the cathedral’s Canon Treasurer.

“Its clauses on social justice are just as pertinent today as they were 800 years ago. This new exhibition is the first step in the Cathedral’s longer term plan to develop the interpretation of Magna Carta.”

  • For more on the Magna Carta at Salisbury Cathedral visit its webpage.
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