Salisbury Cathedral – home to the finest preserved of the four original copies of Magna Carta – celebrates the 800th anniversary of the historic charter as it launches a new exhibition telling the story of its creation and enduring legacy. The new exhibit takes visitors on a journey of liberty and justice woven throughout the Cathedral, medieval cloisters and stunning 13th-century Chapter House.
The interactive and immersive design brings to life the history and the contemporary relevance of this extraordinary document, which is often seen as representing the foundation of modern human rights and of the justice system we recognise today.
The varied elements of the exhibition are intended to encourage a response, from the digital display of spinning globes that exposes statistics on human rights, to the medieval sword that visitors can try out. The exhibition has been designed to appeal to families and younger audiences as well as the Cathedral’s many international visitors, using media installations, simple interactives, objects and stylish graphics.
Salisbury Cathedral’s copy of Magna Carta is re-housed in a dramatic new enclosure, befitting its international significance, and other manuscript treasures from the Cathedral’s archive are displayed. There is also new interpretation of the ornate medieval frieze which visitors can follow round the Chapter House. More is revealed about the historical characters linked to Salisbury who shaped the creation and early years of Magna Carta, whilst contemporary reflections on the meaning of Magna Carta are provided through an thought-provoking documentary made in partnership with local students and Bournemouth University.
Supported through a grant of £415,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF), Salisbury Cathedral aims to use the 800th anniversary year to find new ways to engage visitors with the Magna Carta and its themes.
The Dean of Salisbury, the Very Revd June Osborne, said: “So many of the liberties that we hold dear today – and perhaps sometimes take for granted – can be traced back to Magna Carta. Despite its age the document has clearly gained in relevance for a modern audience, and there is a tangible sense of anticipation as we open this new exhibition and launch the 800th anniversary celebrations in Salisbury. I know that the many visitors who will come to Salisbury Cathedral to experience this exhibition will be excited and engaged by what they find and hope they will go away inspired by Magna Carta’s enduring values of fairness, universal rights and justice.”
Simon Timms, Chair of Heritage Lottery Fund South West Committee, said:
“In today’s world an understanding of justice and human freedoms is of paramount importance, so the Heritage Lottery Fund is delighted to support Salisbury Cathedral’s ambitious plans to celebrate Magna Carta in its 800th year.
“It will be a thrilling experience for visitors to come face to face with Salisbury’s copy of Magna Carta in the new exhibition. And we are very impressed with the wide-ranging programme of events that the Cathedral is arranging during 2015 to give everyone this opportunity”.
Exhibition designers Haley Sharpe Design (hsd), creators of ‘Magna Carta: Spirit of Justice, Power of Words’ embraced the challenge of interpreting the Charter as widely as possible. Oriel Wilson, project consultant, hsd, said: “Our creative design work had to incorporate a range of site-specific media solutions. We have worked carefully within the stunning and sensitive interiors of the Cathedral to develop an exhibition that we believe will appeal to a wide visitor profile with tactile hands-on activities to give visitors the feel of medieval life and touchscreen displays that allow people to explore the continued fight for justice and human rights in the 21st century.”
Spirit of Justice, Power of Words, the exhibition, will be formally opened by Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, on 6 March after which he will deliver a lecture entitled ‘Making the Magna Carta We Want: The Unintended Meanings of an Icon’. Following a successful build and testing period, the exhibition will be open to the public from tomorrow, Saturday 28 February, a week earlier than expected.