UNESCO recognises Magna Carta with Memory of the World award

By Culture24 Staff | 31 July 2009
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a photo of a large manuscript

(Above) The Magna Carta held by the British Library in London

The four surviving copies of Magna Carta, one of the most famous and significant documents in the history of constitutional law, have been awarded Memory of the World status by the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

The award, which is designed to promote worldwide access to the documents and assist in their preservation for future generations, places the documents on the UNESCO Memory of the World International Register. They are now officially recognised, much like World Heritage Sites, as being of "outstanding universal value".

Held at the British Library, Salisbury Cathedral and Lincoln Cathedral, the four manuscripts join some of the world's most significant documentary heritage, including Gutenberg's Bible in Germany and the pre-Colombian Aztec Codices in Mexico.

Forced on King John by the Barons of England at Runnymede in June 1215, Magna Carta was the first charter to detail written constraints on royal authority in the fields of church rights, taxation, feudal rights and justice. It has since become an icon for freedom and democracy throughout the world.

Mark Bonney, Canon Treasurer at Salisbury Cathedral, which owns the finest preserved of the original 1215 documents, said the Cathedral is "well aware" of "the global significance" of the Magna Carta.

"Seeing this most famous of English charters, sealed by an English King almost 800 years ago, is for many visitors the highlight of their time at Salisbury Cathedral," he said.

"Indeed, we know that for 50% of our overseas guests seeing Magna Carta is one of the primary reasons for their visit. Its clauses on social justice form the cornerstone of modern democracy and liberty worldwide and are as pertinent today as they were 800 years ago."

a close up photo of a manuscript

Pic © British Library

At the British Library, which holds two surviving copies of Magna Carta, Phil Spence, Director of Operations and Services, said he was "delighted" with the award.

"The two original copies of Magna Carta are among the British Library's most historically evocative, precious and popular treasures," he added. "Their dedicated room in our exhibition gallery and expert presentation on our website are two of our most visited and widely appreciated public venues."

Magna Carta is the fourth Memory of the World inscription from the UK. It joins the 1916 film about The Battle of the Somme (inscribed in 2005); The Appeal of June 18 1940 by Gen. de Gaulle calling the French people to arms and made in the BBC studios in London (joint nomination with France, inscribed in 2005); and the Mappa Mundi held at Hereford Cathedral (inscribed in 2007).

A UK Memory of the World Register to promote the documents will be launched in Autumn 2009.

More on the venues and organisations we've mentioned:
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