The Cathedral’s 1215 Magna Carta is now back on display after over three months in storage.
The 803-year-old document was removed from display after it was attacked by a man armed with a hammer last October. The outer case did its job, protecting the precious document and withstanding the hammer blows. However, the damage done meant that the whole outer case needed replacing.
The inner case, within which the document sits, was undamaged in the attack and after glass powder and small shards of glass had been carefully removed with a special museum standard vacuum cleaner, the inner case was also opened by the Cathedral’s document conservator, Chris Woods from the National Conservation Service, and a condition check revealed that no harm had been done.
Emily Naish, archivist and curator of the Magna Carta exhibition said:
“Something like this is an archivist’s nightmare and it was a great relief to know that the Charter had escaped unscathed. Luckily no glass dust or shards had penetrated the seal on the inner case. I am thankful that both cases did the job they were designed to do, and the document emerged unharmed.”
The original case was made by specialist showcase makers, Click Netherfield, and installed in the Magna Carta exhibition in the Cathedral’s medieval Chapter House in 2015 as part of Magna Carta 800, the celebrations marking the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the 1215 Magna Carta in Runnymede.
The new case looks similar both in size and design, although there are significant differences that are not obvious to the viewer particularly regarding the security specification of the case glass.
UV light and high humidity are key environmental threats to parchment and oak gall ink documents like Magna Carta. The new case glass has a special UV filter built into it and the strict requirements for the seal on the case ensures that the humidity within can be controlled within safe levels. The elegant case also contains hidden safety features which means that it has the highest security rating of any case in the UK.
Stephen Richards, Head of Business Development at Click Netherfield said:
“It’s important to our clients that our cases are very secure but also good to look at, and environmentally effective, so the design is a key part of our process. When you are the custodian of an irreplaceable document like Magna Carta, you want to know that the case environment is stable and things like humidity and air exchange are well under control, as well as knowing it is secure.”
During the three months that Magna Carta was off display the Cathedral exhibited a near perfect paper facsimile in its place.
Emily Naish Cathedral archivist said:
“I know it is not the real thing, but the facsimile is an extraordinarily fine copy and we are lucky to have it. Of course, a facsimile, however good, is never a complete substitute for visitors wanting the thrill of seeing the real Magna Carta in person so it is fantastic that we are now able to have Magna Carta back on display in a safe and secure environment.”
The damaged glass from the original case will be exhibited alongside Magna Carta in the exhibition, taking its place in the narrative and legacy of this remarkable document.
Spirit of Justice, Power of Words, the exhibition containing the 1215 Magna Carta, is housed in Salisbury Cathedral’s lovely 13th Century Chapter House. Winter opening times (31 October – 20 March) - 10.00 to 16.30 Monday to Saturday and 11.00 to 16.00 on Sundays. Summer opening hours (28 March – 30 October) - 09.30 to 16.30 and 11.00 to 16.00.