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Durham Cathedral

About Durham Cathedral


The copies of the Magna Carta and the Charter of the Forest which will be on tour in Canada are owned by Durham Cathedral, located in Durham in the United Kingdom.

Durham Cathedral has been a place of worship, welcome and hospitality for almost a millennium. Built in 1093 to house the Shrine of St Cuthbert, the Cathedral is cherished for its magnificent Romanesque architecture and incomparable setting at the heart of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is famous as the Shrine of St Cuthbert and the resting place of the Venerable Bede.

Originally built as a monastic cathedral for a community of Benedictine monks, Durham Cathedral possesses some of the most intact surviving monastic buildings in England, including the medieval cloister, the Monks’ Dormitory and the Western Undercroft. The nave, quire and transepts are all Norman and the nave boasts what is believed to be the world’s first structural pointed arch.

With its dramatic position at the top of the Durham City peninsula, Durham Cathedral is both physically and symbolically a focal point for the community of Durham and the wider North East region.

Durham Cathedral is also one of Britain’s best-loved buildings. The iconic view of Durham Cathedral from the East Coast mainline has long been admired and the architectural and historical importance of Durham Cathedral was recognized in 1986 when the Durham World Heritage Site was inscribed as one of the first UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the UK.


Read the Letter of Support from the Dean of Durham


About Magna Carta

The Magna Carta is perhaps the most celebrated document in English history and is widely acknowledged as a foundation and a symbol of our precious civil liberties.

Magna Carta was first issued in 1215, and four exemplifications survive, two at the British Library, one at Lincoln Cathedral, and one at Salisbury Cathedral. After the death of King John the following year, Magna Carta was revived and reissued at Bristol by the counsellors of King John’s son Henry, then aged nine.

Here at Durham Cathedral we are fortunate to possess no fewer than three copies of the Magna Carta, as well as three copies of the Forest Charter composed in 1217 to protect the rights of those who dwelt within the royal forest.

The exemplifications of Magna Carta at Durham comprise the issue of November 1216, the issue of 11 February 1225, and the issue of 28 March 1300. The Forest Charters are the issues of 1217, 1225 and 1300. The 1217 Forest Charter is one of only two surviving copies.

The earliest of the Durham Cathedral copies of Magna Carta, the November 1216 Bristol exemplar, is the only known copy of this issue to survive. It contains 42 clauses (as compared to the 63 of the 1215 issue).

This manuscript will be on display at Palace Green Library, part of Durham University, next summer as part of the Magna Carta and the Changing Face of Revolt exhibition. We look forward to welcoming many people to the Durham World Heritage Site to celebrate the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta and to commemorate a defining moment in English history when this magnificent charter was signed.

The 1225 issue of the Magna Carta held at Durham Cathedral is one of four surviving exemplars. Issued when Henry III reached the age of majority, it is a shorter version (37 articles), a concession of liberties in return for a fifteenth part of moveable goods. It includes the new statement that the charter was issued spontaneously and of the King’s own free will. This was the first version of the charter to enter English law. The Durham copy is in a neat chancery-style hand. The accompanying 1225 Forest Charter at Durham is one of three surviving copies.

The final Magna Carta at Durham is the issue of 28 March 1300 (DUL DCD 2.2.Reg.2), the last full exemplification. It is in excellent condition, a marginal hole not affecting the text, the best of the six surviving copies.

The March 1300 Forest Charter (DUL DCD 2.2.Reg.8), one of two copies, is also in excellent condition with a decorated E similar to that of the Durham Magna Carta of 1300.

The provenance of the exemplifications of Magna Carta at Durham is difficult to trace.

However, three of the surviving 1215 originals come from cathedrals, suggesting that bishops were responsible for the distribution and custody of the charter. This reflects the fact that sheriffs were the object of enquiry under the charter and could not therefore, as would normally have been the case, be entrusted with the charter’s publication.

We look forward to displaying our copies of Magna Carta in the Cathedral itself when our new exhibition spaces open in 2016 as part of our redevelopment project Open Treasure.

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