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article imageFour original copies of Magna Carta go on Display in 2015

By Karen Graham     Oct 17, 2014 in World
English school students know about the importance of the Magna Carta in England's history. King John was forced to seal the charter, under oath in 1215. The charter was a way to limit the king's powers and protect the peoples rights under the law.
There are actually four copies of the Magna Carta in existence today. Two are in the British Library. Along with the two copies in the library are documents telling the story of the 1215 Magna Carta. They include the Articles of the Barons and a list of the barons’ demands which were reflected in Magna Carta. There is also the papal document which declared Magna Carta null and void in August 1215 and a sealed copy of Henry III’s 1225 Magna Carta.
The Magna Carta (originally known as the Charter of Liberties) of 1215  written in iron gall ink on ...
The Magna Carta (originally known as the Charter of Liberties) of 1215, written in iron gall ink on parchment in medieval Latin, using standard abbreviations of the period, authenticated with the Great Seal of King John. The original wax seal was lost over the centuries. This document is held at the British Library and is identified as "British Library Cotton MS Augustus II.106."
The barons and King John of England.
Of the two copies of the Magna Carta held in the British Library, one is a badly burned copy, damaged in a fire in 1731. It was found in the archives of Dover Castle in 1630. It was subsequently sent to Sir Robert Cotton. On October 23, 1731, there was a big fire at Ashburnham House, where the Cotton library was located. The library section suffered extensive damage, including the copy of the Magna Carta.
View of the exterior of Ashburnham House  London  by the English photographer Henry Dixon. Courtesy ...
View of the exterior of Ashburnham House, London, by the English photographer Henry Dixon. Courtesy of the British Library.
Henry Dixon/British Library
The third copy, or exemplification, is held by Lincoln Cathedral, in Lincoln. In 1215, the bishop of Lincoln, Hugh of Wells, was one of the original signers to the Magna Carta. Few people know this, but at the start of WWII, the Lincoln Cathedral copy of the Magna Carta was sent to the United States. Along with the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, it was placed in Fort Know until after the war.
Salisbury Cathedral, in Salisbury is the protector of the fourth and best preserved copy of the Magna Carta. How Salisbury Cathedral ended up with one of the four original copies is an interesting story. Elias of Dereham was present at Runnymede in 1215, and was given the task of distributing the original copies around the kingdom. One he brought back to Salisbury. Elias supervised the construction of the cathedral, and was made a Canon. The copy of the Magna Carta has been displayed there since that time.
Using multispectral imaging to read the burnt copy of the Magna Carta
Multispectral imaging is a process whereby the complete spectrum is captured at every location on an image plane. This means that infrared and ultraviolet imaging, as well as what the human eye normally sees is made visible. This technique can be used safely without touching or damaging the parchment.
Screen shot of the sun taken using NASA SDO multispectral imaging in September  2011.
Screen shot of the sun taken using NASA SDO multispectral imaging in September, 2011.
NASA/Solar Dynamics Observatory
"If you're interested in the ink, the ultraviolet light gives you the best information. If you are interested in the actual texture of the parchment itself, the infrared would be better," said Christina Duffy, a British Library imaging scientist. "You end up with multiple images of essentially the same thing, but giving you different information."
This imaging process allowed conservators to take pictures of the document that literally erased the burn damage and showed the parchment and the text quite clearly. "It was in such a terrible state, we couldn't read any of it, really," said Duffy. "It was actually quite a surprise that so much text was recovered."
Duffy spoke with LiveScience, telling them the burnt document had not been examined for decades. Back in the 1970s, the document was placed in a secure frame and has not been touched until the imaging process. This allowed scientists to actually examine the document closely.
Duffy also said the team has no interest in trying to restore the document. They have opted to leave it as it is. "There are different ways you can treat it," she said. "But a lot of them would be wet processes, so you might have to dampen certain areas, and we don't want to introduce any moisture at all to the charter."
The 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta in 2015
All this preparation is in anticipation of a grand event to be held on February 3, 2015. On that date, the four surviving, original copies of the 1215 Magna Carta will be displayed for the first time in 800 years together at the British Library in London. The public will be allowed to enter a lottery for free tickets which will be available to 1,215 lucky winners. Registration is available on the British Library website.
The British Library is the national library for the U.K. The library holds over 170 million items fr...
The British Library is the national library for the U.K. The library holds over 170 million items from all over the world. It is located in London.
Jack 1956
Both the British Library's original Magna Carta manuscripts will be displayed between March 13, 2015 and Sept. 1, 2015, in an exhibit called "Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy."
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