Magna Carta is recognised as being one of the most important documents in history. First issued in 1215, it established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, even the King himself, and guaranteed the rights of individuals, the right to justice and the right to a fair trial.
Durham Cathedral is fortunate to possess three issues of the Magna Carta, including the only surviving 1216 issue and further engrossments from 1225 and 1300, along with three Forest Charters including one of only two surviving 1217 issues, and further issues from 1225 and 1300.
In 1217 the first Charter of the Forest was issued. Taking the clauses from the first two issues of Magna Carta which related to the Royal Forests, this document gave commoners rights, privileges and protection against the abuses of the King. The Forest Charter guaranteed access to the land for subsistence and farming for the common man and has been used over the centuries to protect land from enclosure by royalty and aristocracy ensuring the preservation of many of the open spaces we see today.
A contemporary piece inspired by Magna Carta created by local artist Judy Hurst, in collaboration with John Hurst, will also be on display in Open Treasure. Visitors to the exhibition will also be able to enjoy a booklet created by the Cathedral’s Young Curators, a group of 11-16 year olds who meet at the Cathedral on Saturdays during term-time.
The Magna Carta and the Forest Charters exhibition is on from 19 June – 9 September in Open Treasure at Durham Cathedral.
Click below to listen to Premier’s Northern Correspondent Ian Britton reporting from Durham.