For the first time in its known history, the legendary “Magna Carta” will leave its birth place of England and arrive in the United States. Originally issued on June 15, 1215, in a field at Runnymeade by King John, the revered document is a considered a hallmark of democracy with its multiple declarations of various freedoms; including an acknowledgement that taxes cannot be arbitrary, free men cannot be imprisoned without first being judged by their peers, and that justice cannot be delayed or denied. King John was just trying to avert a civil war, when confronted by scores of rebellious land barons; a clash that erupted anyway, when Pope Innocent III nullified it 10 weeks later. Somehow, though, the item itself survived. Copies of the original made in 1217 are kept at the Hereford Cathedral Perpetual Trust.
Now, one of those versions will go on display at the Houston Museum of Natural Science.
“These are truly rare and ancient documents,” said Catherine F. Patterson, a British historian at the University of Houston. “They are national treasures that have been guarded for centuries and don’t typically leave England’s shores.”
The “Magna Carta” later formed the basis for English common law and is often cited as a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution. It’s ironic, though, since the medieval treatise applied only to wealthy landowners. Nonetheless, it remains a historic item.
The exhibit is scheduled to open in February and last for 6 months. Hopefully, it’ll make people focus on the realities of democracy’s foundations and the struggles for true freedoms.
“People in their minds have the Disney version where the king wakes up one day and says, ‘I have a great idea,’” said Joel Bartsch, the museum’s president and CEO. “When they come to the museum, they get the real version.”