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British Library brings all four Magna Carta manuscripts together for the first time in history

British Library's Magna Carta, photo credit Joseph Turp

There are only four original Magna Carta documents from 1215 which survive. Two are kept at the British Library, one at Lincoln Cathedral and one at Salisbury Cathedral. Now, for the first time in history these manuscripts will all be in the same place.

British Library's Magna Carta, photo credit Joseph Turp

For one day only on 3rd February 2015, the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral are inviting 1,215 people to come and experience the four Magna Carta manuscripts side by side as part of a special event at the British Library.

Winners of the ballot will be given a once-in-a-lifetime chance to view the four 800 year old manuscripts, and will also be given a special introduction to the history and legacy of the Magna Carta from historian and TV presenter Dan Jones.

The ballot to win tickets to attend is available at www.bl.uk/magna-carta. It is free to enter and will remain open until 31 Oct, after which the winners will be selected at random.

This unification event will kick-start a year of celebrations happening across the UK and the world to mark the 800th anniversary of the granting of the Magna Carta.

Following the event, the four Magna Carta manuscripts will be separated for display in their home institutions as part of major anniversary exhibitions in 2015: the British Library will host ‘Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy’ from 13 March-1 September, Salisbury Cathedral will open their new permanent exhibition ‘Magna Carta – The Power of Words’ from February, and Lincoln Cathedral’s Magna Carta will take pride of place in a new Magna Carta Vault at Lincoln Castle opening on 1 April.

What will happen on 3 February 2015?

On arrival, the 1,215 winners will be welcomed to the British Library by historian and TV presenter Dan Jones, who will explain the history of the Magna Carta and its enduring legacy. Visitors will be offered a timed slot which will ensure they get the most out of their visit.

To the sound of live medieval music in the British Library’s Entrance Hall, winners will then be taken by costumed characters from the 13th Century to view the four original Magna Carta manuscripts on display together for the first time.

Guests will each receive a special edition Magna Carta gift bag containing a pair of tickets to forthcoming Magna Carta exhibitions at the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral. Each gift bag will also include a Certificate of Attendance, which will be inscribed with the winner’s name and sealed in wax with a stamp created to mark the day.

Claire Breay, the Head of Medieval Manuscripts at the British Library, the Very Reverend Philip Buckler, Dean of Lincoln, and the Very Reverend June Osborne, Dean of Salisbury, released this joint statement:

“Most people are familiar with what happened in the year 1066, but not as many would recognise 1215 – the year in which the Magna Carta was created. This event is about celebrating the 800th birthday of one of the most influential documents in the world, by bringing together the four manuscripts which are the original evidence of the agreement made at Runnymede in 1215.

“We’re looking forward to welcoming the winners of the public ballot into the British Library on 3 February to mark this moment in history with us, and we’d urge anyone who isn’t one of the lucky guests to get involved in the many other exhibitions and events happening across the UK and the world to mark this anniversary during 2015.”

To find out more about the Magna Carta ballot, and to apply for a chance to win, go to www.bl.uk/magna-carta

Salisbury Cathedral's Magna Carta, photo credit Ash Mills

The four 1215 Magna Carta – where did they come from?

King John agreed the terms of a Charter of Liberties, subsequently known as Magna Carta, at Runnymede on 15 June 1215. Like other medieval royal charters, the original Magna Carta documents which were drawn up for distribution across the kingdom were authenticated with the Great Seal, not by the signature of the king.

It isn’t known exactly how many copies were drawn up in 1215, but of the original Magna Carta manuscripts, only four survive. These originals are kept in the British Library, Lincoln Cathedral and Salisbury Cathedral.

The year 2015 marks the 800th anniversary of the issuing of Magna Carta by King John, which will be marked by celebrations around the world.

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