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800th Anniversary Celebrations 2015

Magna Carta 800th celebrations 2015 at Salisbury Cathedral

Our celebratory year began with the unification of the four surviving 1215 Magna Cartas in London from 2-5 February 2015, first at the British Library and the House of Lords. It was the first time the Salisbury Magna Carta had been on display outside our Cathedral, and one of the few times it has left the building at all.


200 national and international TV and radio pieces as well as 100 print and online pieces covered the event – which made the headlines around the world. 3900 people were lucky enough to get the chance to see the four charters together. 1215 of these were winners of an international ballot, some of whom flew into London especially for the occasion.


In March we opened a new exhibition – Magna Carta: Spirit of Justice, Power of Words. This involved redisplaying Magna Carta as the centrepiece of a display that touches on the charter’s story, the Salisbury Magna Carta and its survival as part of the Cathedral archive, and the legacy of Magna Carta around the world today. Over 200,000 people from around 100 countries have seen the new exhibition so far. The digital content was produced by 60 students from Bournemouth University working with our designers Haley Sharpe Design.


Neil Macgregor, then director of the British Museum gave our inaugural lecture, attended by 750 people. Our lecture series, presented in partnership with Sarum College also featured Rev. Robin Griffiths-Jones, Professors Chris Dyer, Lesley Smith, Nicholas Vincent and Dick Howard, Dominic Grieve, MP, and John Bercow and Lord Judge. Together they covered numerous facets of Magna Carta, from its history to its relevance today. In parallel, members of the Cathedral team gave Magna Carta talks to a total 7300 people.


Costumed interpreters brought the stories of social justice and injustice over the centuries to life in the cloister – where visitors met King John and Queen Isabella, suffragettes and others, and arts and crafts sessions saw people write with quills, make seals, and dip into the 13th century. Over 9000 school children got involved in Magna Carta activities across the year. In the city, Blue Badge guides created a special Magna Carta walk, Liberty, Justice and Power in Salisbury.


May saw a run of Shakespeare’s rarely performed King John in the Cathedral nave. This unforgettable event was a Globe Theatre production organised as part of the Salisbury International Arts Festival.


June marked a period of intense celebration around the city. Most notably a trail of 25 barons – the result of a partnership between the Trussell Trust and Wild in Art, delighted passers-by of all ages. In the Cathedral, lighting installations by Squid Soup gave the building a festive appearance. Enlightenment in the North Porch captured the Magna Carta mood so well that found its way to the front page of the New York Times.  In the cloisters, we displayed art by men at Erlestoke Prison, the outcome of art classes we organised.


The Magna Carta anniversary weekend (June 13-15) included a gala concert with a new fanfare by the Royal Artillery Band, a new work, A Letter of Rights by Tarik O’Regan and Alice Goodman, and a reading from King John by Edward Fox. Our Magna Carta Eucharist featured a new mass by David Halls, and a motet by John Rutter. The Bishop of Salisbury led a pilgrimage from the site of the old Cathedral at old Sarum to the current building, where we held a giant libertea party on the lawn attended by thousands, with cakes made by Erlestoke prisoners.


The actual anniversary itself was marked by a sixth form conference with Kate Allen, (Amnesty International), Journalist Peter Oborne, and David Davies, MP; a debate at Salisbury Playhouse; and a Cathedral Open Day. In the evening, Wiltshire’s 18 different community areas paraded through the city with giant barons and banners, representing their aspirations for a Magna Carta for today.  The paraded culminated in the Cathedral Close.  A delegation from Salisbury also represented our city at the commemoration ceremony at Runnymede, attended by the Queen.


Over the summer, new British citizens from Wiltshire, Dorset and Swindon were sworn in at a special ceremony held in the Cathedral, and given a copy of Magna Carta each. It was an appropriate reminder of the nation’s values and what we still owe to Magna Carta today.


We commissioned Hoodwink Theatre to create a special immersive piece of drama in the Oak Court at Salisbury Guildhall. This looked at justice across the centuries, drawing upon cases from Salisbury. Another commission from Salisbury playhouse’s youth theatre group Stage 65 created a promenade piece in the Cathedral itself, based on one of the great charters key clauses: Clause 39.


800 children from local and regional schools participated in one of our musical highlights this year: Magna Cantata, telling the story of Bad King John. Several other schools developed Stone, Storms and Soldiers a dance performance inspired by documents in our archive, and through the English Speaking Union, local schools put on a show about the change that Magna Carta brought.  Through a project organised by the Royal Institute of British Architects, children created works of art inspired by a Magna Carta themed visit to the Cathedral. Community groups made banners which chronicled milestones along the road to freedom, and children from the Friary Youth Club produced a video piece, capturing the Magna Carta pageant.


At the Southern Cathedrals Festival in July, the choirs of Winchester, Salisbury and Chichester performed an appropriately themed programme over the course of four days.


September saw in the 2nd Salisbury Contemporary Craft and Heritage Festival, organised by Rotary, showcasing a wide-range of top quality craft, some of which was Magna Carta inspired.  Later that month was Magna Flora – our Magna Carta themed flower festival – which brought in 21,000 visitors over five days. Schools from 17 Commonwealth countries contributed to the Flowers for Freedom display, identifying a flower from their country that best represented the idea of freedom.


To close the season, Salisbury Playhouse put on four especially commissioned one-act plays: The Magna Carta Plays.


It was a busy year indeed! We received 20,000 visitor book signatures, 60% of whom come from abroad, worked with 270 schools, sold 3920 Magna Carta guidebooks, and 96% of our trip advisor reviews were good or excellent. We displayed an award-winning Magna Carta cake, and gave a bejewelled Magna Carta necklace its first public wearing. We welcomed new volunteers, creating a team of 750 people who make what we do possible – including 20,352 hours of guiding this year alone!


For all of this, we are especially grateful to our partners, and to our financial sponsors: The Heritage Lottery Fund, Wilsons Solicitors, the Magna Carta 800th Committee and Arts Council England.


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