From MI6: Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to see Magna Carta before it leaves Houston

Editor’s Note: This document has been intercepted from MI6. We have taken it upon ourselves to charge you with 007′s mission (he’s on summer vacation).

Your mission – should you choose to accept it – is to visit the famed 800-year-old document now on display at HMNS. This special document (Magna Carta) is on borrowed time… and is soon leaving Houston forever (August 17), after which it returns to its original home at Hereford Cathedral.

The Magna Carta serves as the basis for Common Law as we know it. Besides creating limited royal authority for the first time in history, this document has provided inspiration to millions, including the founding fathers of the United States of America. 

Your task is to gain admittance to the exhibit, explore life in the Middle Ages and then finally, gaze reverently on this rare piece of history. Once your mission is complete, feel free to check out the rest of the museum (we’ve got some pretty neat stuff here).

As 007′s replacement, you must maintain a very low profile for this mission. First go to the Houston Museum of Natural Science and pre-order a ticket for the exhibit (they’ll never see that coming). 

After entering the exhibition, you’ll first pass through a medieval village. At the kiosk, there is an interactive station where you’ll be assigned a medieval profession — you’ll need this to blend in. 

Proceed through the village in your new guise to the area filled with medieval weaponry, including a jousting spear, suit of armor and swords. Take note that should you be intercepted by the enemy, they will be using these against you, so observe the mechanics of them well. 

Proceed into the next chamber. A family tree will greet you here. Take time to peruse the historical players who were instrumental in the creation of the Magna Carta — be on the lookout for King John.

Next you’ll find a quilted tapestry (this doesn’t have much to do with your mission, but it’s still awesome.

Get back on track. The final portion of your quest is nigh. At the rear of the illuminated chamber lies the Magna Carta and a copy of the King’s Writ… observe and marvel for as long as you need to. Remember this special moment, because after August 17 this once-in-a-lifetime chance to see the Magna Carta in Houston will be gone for good.

This message will now self destruct.

 

Home is where Hereford is: My trip to Magna Carta’s British stomping grounds

Earlier this year, I was fortunate enough to go to the United Kingdom and visit the home of the Magna Carta, which is currently on display at HMNS.

IMG_0461 - CopyLocated in the town of Hereford (which may sound familiar because of the Hereford breed of cattle that comes from the same area) this 1217 Magna Carta was discovered in the library of Hereford Cathedral. I was excited to see its chained library and another of Hereford Cathedral’s historical documents, the Mappa Mundi.

The Cathedral is quite large, so it was easy to spot as I entered the city. I had some free time to explore all the chapels and prayer rooms of the Cathedral before I met with the Chancellor of Hereford Cathedral, Reverend Chris Pullin. Luckily, he offered to take me on a tour of the Cathedral to see the Mappa Mundi, the chained library and the cloisters.

First stop, Mappa Mundi, the largest medieval map in existence. Created on calf skin, this map references large cities of the late 13th and early 14th centuries, from Jerusalem to Rome to the current home of the Mappa Mundi, Hereford. The map also depicts mythological creatures and biblical events. Although the Mappa Mundi only measures 5 feet 2 inches by 4 feet 4 inches, it contains most of the known world at the time, including Europe, Asia and Northern Africa — an impressive feat for the medieval cartographers. 

Just beyond the doors to the Mappa Mundi lies the chained library, which was the next stop on our tour. I was looking forward to seeing the real one after having seen the mock-up created for our exhibit at HMNS. The library was designed with chains to prevent people from walking away with the handwritten books, which were costly and time-consuming to make.

Although the chained library in Hereford looks like an exhibition, it is still a functional library. Visitors can look at illuminated manuscripts from the 12th century or even more recent additions to their collection.

IMG_0482 - CopyThe last stop on the tour was a visit to the college cloisters. Although these areas are not open to the general public, the education department at the Cathedral uses them for educational tours to show what life was like during Tudor England. Although many of these cloisters have been remodeled, there is a section that shows how the cloisters would have looked in the original wattle and daub. This method involved creating latticework out of reeds and sticks and covering the woven frame with mud. The result is a sturdy wall that was used to build homes like the cloisters in Hereford.

My trip to Hereford was short and sweet, and definitely worth the trek to see the official home of the Magna Carta of 1217 — not to mention the Mappa Mundi and chained library! 

Bummed that Hereford is so far away? Me too, friend. Luckily the Magna Carta is now at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. From stained glass to the chained library, we’ve captured the feeling of Hereford in H-Town. Don’t miss out!

For more information about the Magna Carta or to plan your visit to HMNS, click here.  

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The tie that binds: Why the United Kingdom, United States & Magna Carta matter to each other

Editor’s note: This guest post was written by Andrew Millar, British Consul General in Houston, Texas.

Andrew Millar - PhotoI spend a lot of time in this job talking about the core values that the UK and the U.S.A. share.  These values underpin the closeness of our bilateral relationship and provide the foundation for what President Obama called “one of the greatest alliances the world has ever known.” 

Our relationship with Texas is especially close. We appointed my first predecessor in 1842, accredited to the newly formed Republic of Texas. That seems like a long time ago, but that span of time is dwarfed by the recently arrived copy of the Magna Carta dating from 1217. There is a real sense of vertigo when looking at this small piece of vellum: both because of its age (nearly 800 years) and its significance in defining those core values that bind our nations together. 

When King John signed the document in 1215, no monarch had ever before ceded absolute power to the rule of law. The Magna Carta is the first legal document to protect the rights of citizens and limit the power of the monarchy — the end of the tyranny of Kings etched on to a piece of sheepskin. 

Of course, it took many years for its values to become entrenched and some Kings were less bound by it than others, but it remains the stuff of legends. Even today, every British child knows the story of bad King John, the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robin Hood. It was the punitive taxes imposed by King John and enforced by his Sheriffs that drove the Barons into rebellion and forced a weak King to sign away his absolute power.  We have not had a King named John since.

The Magna Carta has been universally recognized as a key milestone in the global history of democratic governance, and its impact extends well beyond the UK’s borders. The Magna Carta’s message of liberty and human rights has served as a foundation for the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights and the European Union Charter of Human Rights, and it has also inspired the constitutions of countries all over the world — including the United States Constitution.  

When America’s founders first drafted the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, they looked to English law and the Magna Carta as a template for guaranteeing freedom and justice in the new nation. Many basic legal concepts that are held dear by Americans today, such as the right to a free trial, can be originally traced back to the Magna Carta.

Today the UK also proudly maintains a tradition of promoting civil liberties and the rule of law throughout the world. In its recently released Human Rights and Democracy Report, the British government has outlined its goals to continue working with the U.S. and others to end discrimination, censorship, and other undemocratic practices internationally. This reflects a strong worldwide commitment to upholding the values that were enshrined in British law nearly 800 years ago.

I hope that readers living in Texas or close enough to visit the Museum of Natural Science in Houston will go and reflect on this magnificent piece of history.

 
About Andrew Millar, British Consul General in Houston
Andrew Millar has served as the British Consul General in Houston since August 2011. He joined the Civil Service in 1994 working as a regulatory economist within the Office of Gas Supply and joined the FCO in 1996, as a regional economist for the Americas and Caribbean. In 1998, was promoted to cover the Asia regional economy portfolio.

Andrew was posted as First Secretary to Pretoria (2000-05). On return to London, he took over as Team-Leader for Energy Security in the Climate Change and Energy Group within the FCO. He also served as UK representative on the non-member country committee in the International Energy Agency and was a member of the G8 Energy Experts Group in the run up to the St Petersburg Summit.

He moved into Human Resources in 2007, as Team Leader – Training and Development, before being pulled back into energy security. He was appointed lead within the FCO on preparations for the London Energy Meeting in December 2008.

Andrew started work in the Health Physics department at Torness Nuclear Power Station in 1983. He left in 1990 and obtained a Degree and Master in Economics from the University of East Anglia. Andrew is married with two children.

 

Happy Magna-tine’s Day: Magna Carta exhibit now open

It’s finally here, folks – our Magna Carta exhibit is open to the public! For the first time ever, this document has traveled from its home in Hereford Cathedral to come to Houston.

HMNS hosted a press event yesterday, with presentations by Houston Mayor Annise Parker, Reverend Canon Chris Pullin of Hereford Cathedral, and British Consul General Andrew Millar. Here are some highlights:

Mayor Parker opened the event remarking that “Magna Carta is one of the most important documents in the world.” Saying that she was glad to come to the event not just as mayor of Houston, but as a Museum member, she continued, “It’s an exciting time for the City of Houston and a wonderful, wonderful day for the Houston Museum of Natural Science.”

Next the Reverend Canon Chris Pullin, Chancellor for Hereford Cathedral, spoke. With cheerful excitement, he mentioned how it was quite likely that more people would see Magna Carta at HMNS in the next six months than would at Hereford in the next “20 or 25 years.” He went on to describe Houston as a fitting destination for Magna Carta, in part because of the role Houston had in building America’s space program. While these events may not seem related, he drew comparisons between “an American project that did something for the whole world” and a British document, which has come to “represent a step forward for the whole of humanity,” laying out ideas for “what it is to live properly with respect to one another in this world.”

British Consul General Andrew Millar called it “a momentous day,” speaking on the role Magna Carta continues to play in the modern quest for justice, calling it “the foundation of human rights.” Underscoring how important it is for today’s youth to have an understanding of rights and justice, he continued, “I will definitely be bringing my children. I hope everybody else brings theirs as well.”

And it seems that many children, in fact, will get to see the document. According to Joel A. Bartsch, President and CEO of HMNS, over 4,000 students already have tickets to come see Magna Carta on field trips.

IMG_20140213_133601We were also fortunate to have several descendants of the barons (the 25 barons who forced King John to accept Magna Carta) at the press conference. These descendents are a few of over 100 living in the Houston area. Margaret Gene Harris, descended from 14 barons, said, “To bring [Magna Carta] to the Houston area … that is magnificent.” On learning about her heritage and connection with the document, she remarked that when she was younger, “I didn’t care a whit and feather about genealogy,” but now has deep-held respect for her ancestors. “You find out they are human beings,” which gives Gene Harris a new perspective on the document.

Another descendent, Nedaye G. Potts, said that seeing Magna Carta in person was, “in a word, awesome.” Bill Griffith, descended from 16 barons, shared this sentiment, stating, “It’s very exciting to see it in person. There’s a big difference in seeing the actual document.”

IMG_20140213_133944“It’s a privilege to be able to see it,” remarked Susan Tillman. “It takes the abstract and makes it concrete. There are very few documents that have been produced through the lifetime of man that have held relevance right up to today, and this is one of them.”

So there you have it! Magna Carta at HMNS is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to see one of the most influential documents in history. So don’t wait, join the British sensation today!