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 I was excited to see its chained library and another of Hereford Cathedral’s historical documents, the Mappa Mundi.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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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!