Magna Carta, the great charter of rights and liberties, stands at the heart of English and American law and has influenced the legal systems of many other democratic nations. One of the earliest statements of limited government and a point of departure for centuries of debate on individual rights, Magna Carta has become the world’s most enduring symbol of the rule of law.
The Library of Congress will celebrate the 800th anniversary of the first issue of Magna Carta with a 10-week exhibition "Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor," opening Thursday, Nov. 6, and running through Monday, Jan. 19, 2015. The exhibition—to be located in the South Gallery, second level of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C.—will be free and open to the public from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
The Lincoln King John 1215 Magna Carta, on loan from the Lincoln Cathedral in England, will be the centerpiece of the exhibition. In addition, there will be rare materials from the Law Library of Congress and from various other divisions of the Library, which will tell the story of 800 years of Magna Carta’s influence on the history of political liberty. The materials will both illuminate the context of Magna Carta in medieval and early modern England and show how the charter came to occupy such an important place in British and American law.
"Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor" also will celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Lincoln Magna Carta’s first visit to the Library of Congress. After a six-month exhibit in the British Pavilion at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, the document traveled to Washington, D.C. On Nov. 28, 1939, the British Ambassador to the United States, in an official ceremony, handed Magna Carta over to Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish for safekeeping during World War II. The Library placed the document on exhibition, until the U.S. entry into the war, when the Library sent Magna Carta to Fort Knox, Ky. The document returned to England in 1947.
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington said, "We are honored to place on exhibition Magna Carta, one of the lasting treasures of human history. The principles that underlay Magna Carta are the foundation of our liberties, inspiring this country’s Founding Fathers in shaping the U.S. Constitution and the laws of this land. We especially welcome the return of the Lincoln King John 1215 Magna Carta, because the Library of Congress played an important role in its safekeeping during World War II."
Law Librarian of Congress David Mao said, "Through this exhibition we will celebrate the core tradition of the rule of law. While aiming to detail the enduring impact of Magna Carta over 800 years, our exhibit will illuminate its influence on our legal traditions and political thought while examining the unfolding story of the rule of law throughout the world. We look forward to taking a leading role in the American commemoration of the 800th anniversary of this legal treasure."
The Lincoln King John Magna Carta will travel first to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and then to the Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute at Clark University in Williamstown, Mass. Its final stop in America will be the Library of Congress.
After its appearance here, Magna Carta will return to England and be placed briefly on display at the British Library, along with the other three surviving original 1215 issues of the document. Two are held by the British Library and one by Salisbury Cathedral. Of the four, the Lincoln King John Magna Carta is considered to be in the best condition.
Magna Carta or "Great Charter" was sealed in 1215, in a grassy meadow at Runnymede, by the Thames, when barons coerced King John into granting a number of rights and liberties. The document is the world’s most enduring symbol of the rule of law, establishing the principle that no one is above the law, not even the king.
The Library of Congress also will celebrate the 800th anniversary by curating and providing materials for a facsimile traveling exhibition on Magna Carta for the American Bar Association (ABA). The exhibition will open at a 2014 ABA Annual Meeting in Boston and travel across the United States. In June 2015, the ABA Magna Carta Facsimile Traveling Exhibit will journey to England. For more information on ABA’s Magna Carta commemoration, visit www.facebook.com/abamagnacarta.
The Lincoln Cathedral, officially the Cathedral Church of St. Mary of Lincoln, is located in Lincoln, England, and is the seat of the Bishop of Lincoln in the Church of England. The cathedral and its bishops have had a leading role in the history of England. In 1215 the Bishop of Lincoln, Hugh of Wells, was present at Runnymede along with Lincolnshire’s Cardinal Archbishop Stephen Langton. When King John agreed to the barons’ demands, copies of Magna Carta, written in Latin, were made and distributed to sheriffs, cathedrals, and important religious houses throughout England. Lincoln Cathedral’s Magna Carta is one of only four from the original distribution still in existence. The cathedral itself, highly regarded by architectural scholars, is one of Europe’s finest Gothic buildings. Construction started in 1072 and continued in several phases throughout the medieval period.
The Law Library of Congress was established in 1832 with the mission to make its resources available to members of Congress, the Supreme Court, other branches of the U.S. government and the global legal community and to sustain and preserve a universal collection of law for future generations. With more than 5 million items in various formats, the Law Library of Congress contains the world’s largest collection of law books and other resources from all countries and provides online databases and guides to legal information worldwide through its website at www.loc.gov/law.
The Library of Congress, the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution and the largest library in the world, holds more than 158 million items in various languages, disciplines and formats. The Library serves the U.S. Congress and the nation both on-site in its reading rooms on Capitol Hill and through its award-winning website at www.loc.gov.
[Image: The Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta, 1215. Courtesy of Lincoln Cathedral | At the center of the exhibition will be the Lincoln Cathedral copy of the Magna Carta. The Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta is one of four existing exemplifications of Magna Carta dating from 1215. The Lincoln Magna Carta along with the other three 1215 copies were given “Memory of the World” status by UNESCO for their singular world historical significance. Its name derives from the document’s regular custodian, Lincoln Cathedral in Lincoln, England.]