Heritage Lottery funding for Salisbury Cathedral's rare Magna Carta copy

Salisbury Cathedral will be displaying a rare copy of the Magna Carta as part of celebrations marking the document's 800th anniversary next year

The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) has declared its intention to provide "initial support" to Salisbury Cathedral in its efforts to prepare its rare surviving copy of the Magna Carta for the 800th anniversary events next year.

Salisbury holds one of the four remaining original copies of the Magna Carta known to exist. Two of the others are in the British Library in London, and one is in Lincoln Cathedral.

Among other events for the 800th anniversary of the charter's signing, all four documents will be brought together as part of a unique display in the British Library, billed as a "once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for researchers and the public to see the documents side-by-side".

This will be followed by an exhibition featuring Salisbury Cathedral's Magna Carta in the Chapter House alongside other documents from its extensive archive.

Cathedral authorities said: "The responsibility of owning and interpreting the Magna Carta is important in shaping Salisbury Cathedral's objectives, especially as the document's 800th anniversary in 2015 approaches."

Using the latest interpretation techniques, the cathedral intends to communicate the Magna Carta's historic background and modern significance to the many visitors expected in 2015 and beyond.

The Magna Carta is the foundation of English governance and is considered so important that it holds a place on the "Memory of the World" register, a collection of the most significent historical documents and records listed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

The cathedral's website describes the physical document itself it in the following terms "[It] is closely written in a beautiful scribal hand. It is on a single sheet of vellum, and was originally sealed with the royal great seal".

"The text, with its 63 clauses, occupies the whole sheet, with margins of about 1cm. The text itself is in Latin, with various customary abbreviations, some of which remain ambiguous to this day."

Historically, this copy found a home in Salisbury because of the involvement of Elias of Dereham, a key aid to the then Archbishop of Canterbury Stephen Langton, and an important negotiator in the 1215 crisis which led to the signing of Magna Carta.

Elias was a stonemason who was later charged with the construction of Salisbury Cathedral, which he would ultimately become Canon of. Before that, he was given the responsibility of distributing ten of the thirteen copies of the Magna Carta made.

One of these went to Old Sarum Cathedral, built in 1092 and the place of worship that existed before the current Salisbury Cathedral was built on the site between 1220 and 1258.

Talking about the cathedral's copy of the Magna Carta, Canon Edward Probert, Canon Chancellor, Acting Dean of Salisbury said, "Magna Carta lay unnoticed in our archives for centuries before someone spotted it and realised its huge significance.

"This funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund will also enable us to employ a full time archivist so that other important manuscripts from our archives can be experienced by the public for the first time."

"Salisbury Cathedral's archive is a real medieval treasure trove with documents going back to the founding of the first Cathedral at Old Sarum – so who knows what else might be discovered?"

In order to unlock the £500,000 being put forward by the Heritage Lottery Funding, the cathedral will need to raise £200,000 of its own in "partnership funding".

Martin Field, Deputy Chapter Clerk and Development Director of Salisbury Cathedral said that he was "delighted" about the new funding.

He explained that it "allows us to develop our exciting plans for a new Magna Carta exhibition and other celebratory activities in 2015, bringing Magna Carta to many new audiences".

"The 'Great Charter' has inspired and influenced people to stand up for justice and freedom around the globe and across the ages. People will be able to come to Salisbury and experience for themselves the extraordinary sway the ideas expressed in this document continue to hold."

Nerys Watts, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, said: "Salisbury Cathedral's original 1215 Magna Carta is one of the world's most important documents and is still hugely relevant to our lives today."

"This initial support will mean the Cathedral can work up detailed plans to restore, re-present and open up the Magna Carta's fascinating story for visitors long into the future. We are looking forward to seeing these exciting plans progress over the coming months."

Wilsons Solicitors LLP, the oldest legal business headquartered in Salisbury, has already pledged £30,000 towards the cathedral's £200,000 goal.

Managing Partner Andrew Roberts said, "Magna Carta is probably the most famous document in English legal history. Its application of the rule of law to all, including the state, continues to underlie the personal and commercial freedoms that we enjoy today."

"We feel privileged to be the first business to support this internationally important project to showcase this document, its context and impact."

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