Hereford Cathedral has put its 1217 Magna Carta on display in a special exhibition now open and running to 31 December. ‘Law, Life and Landscape’ celebrates the 800th anniversary of the document, which forms the centrepiece of the presentation in the cathedral library’s exhibition gallery.

The 1217 Charter brought to an end a civil war in England that the more famous 1215 Charter had failed to conclude. It was the first to be called 'Magna' (Great), to distinguish it from the smaller Forest Charter published alongside it. The cathedral possesses one of only four surviving official copies of the 1217 Magna Carta. It is too fragile to be on permanent display, although it did go on a 37,000-mile world tour in 2015, when it was seen by 25,000 people.

The Forest Charter which would have accompanied it is lost, but the cathedral is displaying a late 13th-century copy in the register of Bishop Richard Swinfield, kindly loaned by the Herefordshire Archive and Records Centre (HARC).

The Charter of Liberties focussed principally on the concerns of people of wealth, influence and power, but the Forest Charter touched the daily lives of ordinary people much more directly, reflecting their closeness to nature and the rhythms of the seasons.

Visitors to the ‘Law, Life and Landscape’ exhibition have the opportunity to sign the 2017 Charter for Trees, Woods and People, spearheaded by the Woodland Trust on behalf of more than 70 organisations, which will be officially launched on 6 November, to mark the 800th anniversary to the day of the 1217 Forest Charter.

In association with the exhibition there is a series of six evening lectures with outside speakers and on Saturday 11 November a conference, ‘Hereford and the Magna Carta, 1217–2017’ will be held at the cathedral.

The set of calligraphic ‘Flags of Freedom’ banners, commissioned in 2015 from local artist Chris White to mark the 800th anniversary of the 1215 charter, have been rehung in the cathedral nave. They incorporate important clauses from the charter.

‘Law, Life and Landscape’ is shown within the Mappa Mundi and Chained Library exhibition space, from Monday 24 July to Saturday 30 December 2017, 10 am to 5 pm (last admission 4.30 pm). From 30 October it will close at 4 pm (last admission 3.30 pm). Normal admission charges apply.

Magna Carta 1217 (c. Hereford Cathedral Library)

A deer hunt in the forest, from an early civil law manuscript
(c. Hereford Cathedral Library)