Today Salisbury Cathedral, the British Library and Lincoln Cathedral have made history by bringing together the only four original 1215 Magna Carta manuscripts surviving in one place, for the first time. This unification event, sponsored by the global law firm Linklaters, is taking place at the British Library over the next three days, and is part of a year of international celebrations to mark the 800th anniversary of the issue of the Charter by King John in 1215.
Magna Carta is one of the world’s most influential documents – an agreement granted by King John in 1215 as a practical solution to a political crisis, which in the centuries since has become a potent symbol of liberty and the rule of law. The original manuscripts were dispatched over a period of a few weeks in late June and early July 1215. The surviving four, which have never all been in the same place before, will be together at the British Library from Monday 2 February to Wednesday 4 February. Following the event, the manuscripts will then travel to the House of Lords for one further day on Thursday 5 February, before being separated and put on display by their home institutions in major anniversary exhibitions.
The unification event will formally open tonight at the British Library, at a special celebratory reception hosted by the partnering organisations. Our manuscript is accompanied by Salisbury Cathedral's Dean, the Very Revd June Osborne, Canon Cancellor Edward Probert and Cathedral Archivist Emily Naish. Two of our volunteers, Stevie Paul and Iona Johnson will also get a chance to view the documents today and will be filmed by Songs of Praise for transmission on 8 February.
On Tuesday 3 February, the manuscripts will be viewed by 1215 people who won the chance to attend the event after entering a public ballot launched last year. The winners were randomly selected from 43,715 applicants from over 20 countries, who all entered the ballot to be part of this once-in-a-lifetime event. They will be welcomed to the British Library by historian and journalist Dan Jones, who will explain the history of the Magna Carta and its enduring legacy, before viewing the four manuscripts together in the Library’s Sir John Ritblat Treasures Gallery.
On Wednesday 4 February, a group of world-leading Magna Carta academics will have the chance to examine the manuscripts side by side as part of a major research project funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council. They’ll be using this unique opportunity to look at the handwriting of each of the scribes, consider evidence of the ownership of the documents over 800 years, and examine the four manuscripts in context of several hundred other King John charters they have already studied during the course of the three-year research project.
Our Magna Carta will be on show again here in the Cathedral in our brand new interactive exhibition 'Spirit of Justice, Power of Words' from 6 March. During its abscence a temporary exhibition containing a facsimile of our historic document is on display in the Morning Chapel.