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Hereford Magna Carta visits United States

30 July 2021


The Hereford 1217 copy of Magna Carta, on display in Washington

The Hereford 1217 copy of Magna Carta, on display in Washington

HEREFORD CATHEDRAL’s copy of Magna Carta is on its international travels again. It has made three foreign trips in the past seven years, including a world tour to mark the 800th anniversary of its creation. It is now in the United States.

The document — a 1217 version of the declaration signed two years earlier by King John at Runnymede, near Windsor — influenced the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution. It is now the headline exhibit in the display “Magna Carta: Tyranny. Justice. Liberty” in the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC.

Alongside it is the only surviving example of the King’s Writ, also from Hereford Cathedral, which the monarch sent out in 1215 to all county sheriffs in England, instructing them to ensure that the principles of the “Great Charter” were enforced.

The exhibition, which runs until January, chronicles the evolving struggle for liberty, from the medieval world, through North America in the 17th and 18th centuries, where Magna Carta took on new meaning in opposition to British rule, to the UN Declaration of Human Rights and the present day.

“The idea of Magna Carta defined the importance of the process of law in regard to life, liberty, and property found in the United States Bill of Rights; so it is fitting that we are bringing Magna Carta and the King’s Writ to the heart of the US capital,” said Luke Purser, a co-founder of Hawkwood International, the London cultural and arts firm that helped Hereford to set up the loan. The costs of the trip are covered by the Museum of the Bible and Hawkwood International as part of the exhibition agreement.

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Planning started two years ago, and the Covid pandemic meant that the team escorting the document to the US had to get special US National Interest Exemption certificates, which were only confirmed 48 hours before they were due to leave.

This Magna Carta is always moved in a secure, environmentally controlled case, accompanied by a cathedral staff member and a professional conservator. Also, the approval of the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England and a temporary export licence had to be secured.

It is only the fifth time that Hereford’s Magna Carta has left the city in eight centuries. Apart from its world tour in 2015, it was hidden in a secret location in Aberystwyth during the Second World War. In 2014, it was loaned to the Houston Museum of Natural Science, in Texas; and, in 2019, it was exhibited for three months in Vercelli, Italy, for the 800th-anniversary celebrations of the Basilica di Sant’ Andrea, founded by the papal legate who sealed Hereford’s copy.


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