Lincoln Magna Carta
Magna Carta 800 years - a celebration

What celebrations?

Only four original copies of the document known as Magna Carta still exist. Two copies are in the British Library where One copy is on permanent display in the British Library’s Treasures Room. The other two copies are usually in Lincoln and Salisbury Cathedrals.

For the whole of the month from 3rd May, 2014, Lincoln Cathedral's copy of the Magna Carta was put on show in the Cathedral at Bury St Edmunds. The Bury Society said the celebrations and loan of the copy of the Magna Carta had been made possible by an £86,400 grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Admission was free, but tickets had to be booked in advance to control the numbers able to be accomodated under the secure and controlled conditions within the Lower Treasury of the St James Cathedral.

On 23rd April, Chris Woods, director of the National Conservation Service, had transported the historic charter with two escorts from Lincoln Cathedral to the cathedral in Bury St Edmunds. The document at St Edmundsbury Cathedral is one of four remaining copies out of probably 40 that were written, Mr Woods said. The Lincoln copy, which is owned by Lincoln Cathedral, is kept in a humidity and temperature-controlled case and there have to be low light levels. It is actually an 18-inch square piece of parchment made from sheepskin with text in Latin, but has lost its original seal. At Lincoln it had lain unrecognised in a drawer for centuries.

This year marks the 800th anniversary of when a group of barons and the Archbishop of Canterbury met at the abbey in 1214 to take an oath to force King John to put his seal to the charter, which happened at Runnymede the following year. The event was recorded by Roger of Wendover, and later by Matthew Paris.

It has taken more than two years’ work by the local Magna Carta 800 Committee to bring the copy to the town.

Magna Carta Website
blank The celebrations included an exhibition in the Cathedral, and since 1st April there has been a new website – – which aimed to make it easier for people to book to see the historic document when it is on display in the town in May, and also explained the history of the charter and offered resources for schools.

In October 19-21 and 26-28, A Magna Carta Light and Sound event is planned.

Why does St Edmundsbury celebrate the Magna Carta?

Bury St Edmunds is a founder member and trustee of the Magna Carta Trust. The Trust was formed in 1957 to commemorate and promote the rights given by the charter.

The five “charter towns” are all trustees: City of London, St Albans, Canterbury, Bury St. Edmunds and Runnymede. Each town has a link to the charter. The Abbey was where the Barons met and decided to make King John sign it.

Each town takes it in turn to host a celebration of the charter every three years, so each town has 15 years between hosting the arrangements. The first celebration was in 1959 and was a ten-day pageant held in the Abbey Gardens in June. Bury has also held the celebrations in 1974, 1989 and 2004.

The 800th anniversary of the Barons meeting at Bury in 1214 is being held in addition to the Magna Carta Trust timetable.

What is the link to Bury St Edmunds?

The motto of the Borough of St. Edmundsbury, Sacrarium Regis, Cunabula Legis, means Shrine of a King, Cradle of the Law. The King is St. Edmund, King of the East Angles, who was killed by invading Danes in 869. His shrine stood for centuries in the medieval Abbey of St. Edmund, and from him the town derived its name. Cradle of the Law refers to the tradition that in 1214 the barons of England met in the Abbey Church and swore that they would force King John to accept the Charter of Liberties later known as Magna Carta.

The shields of those nobles can be seen around the ceiling of the St Edmundsbury Cathedral. They were put up in 1967, financed by an American organisation called the Dames of the Magna Carta. One clause of the Magna Carta says that 25 barons would be elected to a commission which would monitor the King's compliance with the charter. The names of those 25 barons are recorded on a plaque on a column of the ruined Abbey in the Abbey Gardens.

Prepared for the St Edmundsbury Website by David Addy May 15th 2014

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Updated 15th May 2014 Go to Home Page