THE Archbishop of Canterbury has said that the Church has failed
to live up to the "most noble qualities" set out in Magna
He made his comments on Monday, during a series of events to
mark the 800th anniversary of the great charter at the site of its
sealing in Runnymede, Surrey, in the presence of the Queen and
other members of the royal family, as well as politicians and
Archbishop Welby said that "in the centuries since [the Magna
Carta was sealed], how often the Church and others have failed to
uphold these most noble qualities, to be an advocate for those
members of our community for whom the rights and liberties of Magna
Carta have remained a distant hope.
"From the support for enclosures to the opposition to the Great
Reform Act, to the toleration of all sorts of abuse, with humility
we recognise these failings."
Earlier, the Duke of Cambridge joined a group of teenagers in a
poetic dedication of a new permanent artwork by Hew
Locke, The Jurors. It features 12 carved chairs,
depicting historic and ongoing "struggles for freedom, rule of law,
and equal rights".
In blazing heat, 3000 invited guests watched performances by the
London Philharmonic Orchestra, the Band of the Royal Marines, and
the Temple Church Choir, and listened to a series of speeches.
The Master of the Rolls, Lord Dyson, said that "the barons' list
of demands would become a symbol of democracy, justice, human
rights, and, perhaps above all, the rule of law for the whole
The Princess Royal said that "the values gleaned from Magna
Carta provide us with one of our most basic doctrines: that no
person is above the law. In recent history, and even today, we see
in many parts of the world that power without that rule of law can
lead to suffering of terrible proportions.
"The safeguards that were spawned by Magna Carta act as a
bulwark against abuses of human rights. But it takes all of us to
stand up for these principles."
The Prime Minister said that for centuries Magna Carta was
invoked "to help promote human rights and alleviate suffering right
around the world. But here in Britain - ironically, the place where
those ideas were first set out - the good name of human rights has
sometimes become distorted and devalued.
"So it falls to us to restore the reputation of those rights and
their critical underpinning of our legal system. It is our job to
safeguard the legacy of those barons. And there couldn't be a
better time to reaffirm that commitment than on an anniversary like
The US Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, speaking as the American
Bar Association's memorial at Runnymede was rededicated by Princess
Anne, said: "This social contract between a monarch and his people
codified, however imperfectly, notions that would one day stand at
the heart of our own system of justice: the idea that no power is
unconditional, and no rule is absolute; that we are not subjugated
by an infallible authority but share authority with our fellow
citizens; that all are protected by the law, just as all must
answer to the law."
Church's vital part in Magna Carta
WITHOUT a medieval Archbishop of Canterbury, Magna Carta might
never have existed, and the events of 1215 would have been
dismissed as a "failed rebellion", a new report suggests.
Stephen Langton, who was the Archbishop of Canterbury in 1215,
has been suggested as one of the early authors of the charter,
whose first clause relates to the independence of the Church.
The report The Church and the Charter: Christianity and
the forgotten roots of the Magna Carta, from the think tank
Theos, says that Langton's robust leadership and dealings with the
barons were crucial to the creation and signing of the charter, and
that the ideas of lawfulness, accountability, access to justice,
and the extension of rights to "all free men" are drawn from the
world of medieval theology.
Scholars have also discovered that religious scribes wrote two
of the four remaining copies of the parchments. Researchers working
on the Magna Carta Project - a collaboration between the British
Library; the University of East Anglia (UEA); King's College,
London (KCL); All Souls College, Oxford; and Canterbury Christ
Church University - believe that the Lincoln charter was written by
a scribe working for the Bishop of Lincoln, and the Salisbury
charter by a scribe working for the Dean and Chapter of
The principal investigator on the project, Nicholas Vincent, who
is Professor of Medieval History at UEA, said: "King John had no
real intention that the charter be either publicised or enforced.
It was the bishops, instead, who insisted that it be distributed to
the country at large, and thereafter who preserved it in their
"We now find at least two cathedral churches - Lincoln and
Salisbury - each producing its own Magna Carta, supplying the time,
the scribe, and the initiative to get the document copied.
"This serves as an important reminder of the ways in which our
modern ideas of freedom, democracy, and the rule of law emerged
from a close co-operation between Church and State.
"Bizarrely enough, Magna Carta is the product of a situation far
closer to that which elsewhere in today's world we might associate
with the enemies of modern liberal democracy, with sharia law, or
with those systems in which Church and State are
David Carpenter, who is Professor of Medieval History at KCL,
and a member of the project team, said: "We now know that three of
the four surviving originals of the charter went to cathedrals.
This overturns the old view that the charters were sent to the
sheriffs in charge of the counties [which] would have been fatal,
since the sheriffs were the very people under attack in the
charter. They would have quickly consigned Magna Carta to their
Events to mark the Magna Carta anniversary were held around the
country. At Manchester Cathedral, bell-ringers rang a quarter peal
of Plain Bob Triples. Worcester Cathedral - which houses the bones
of King John - also had a four-hour peal, and held concerts.
The Dean, the Very Revd Peter Atkinson, said: "We do not
canonise King John, but we guard his tomb with the respect owed to
that of a king, and we rejoice in the rule of law, to which kings
are subject, and which Magna Carta symbolises."
About 700 pilgrims joined the Bishop of Salisbury, the Rt Revd
Nick Holtam, on a pilgrimage from Old Sarum to Salisbury Cathedral,
to celebrate the charter's sealing.
'Freedom rolled back?' - Letter to
Magna Carta story' - Durham opera reviewed