Magna Carta celebrations take over St Albans - updated with gallery and video

Magna Carta arrives at St Albans Abbey

Magna Carta arrives at St Albans Abbey - Credit: Archant

THE most famous document in English history arrived in St Albans last week under lock and key, but after 800 years, no-one was complaining.

An original - and priceless - Magna Carta was last Thursday carefully transported from its home at Lincoln Cathedral to a specially designed bullet-proof pod in St Albans Abbey.

St Albans is a Charter Town because in August 1213 the Abbey was the venue of the first meeting between barons and clergy to discuss grievances against King John - traditionally known as the bad king in the story of Robin Hood.

The historic meeting at the Abbey in 1213 led, two years later, to the articles that became Magna Carta, sealed at Runnymede.

The charter is the foundation stone of democracy in England, paving the way for the freedoms enjoyed by millions of people across the world.

St Albans is celebrating the 800th anniversary of that meeting with a series of events, including the arrival of one of just four remaining originals of the approximately 40 made in the royal chancery in 1215 and distributed to every medieval English county.

As the Abbey’s bells rung out Beethoven’s Ode to Joy to mark the significant occasion, the historic sheepskin parchment that was written upon by a pigeon or goose feather was unveiled to an impressed audience who clapped and cheered.

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However some of the youngsters peering closely at the charter struggled with its abbreviated Latin script.

One girl poring over the ancient document explained to her friend, “there’s an ‘l’ there’s a ‘t’ and blah, blah, blah.”

The priceless document, covered by a government indemnity scheme while on loan to the Abbey, is housed in a modular secure pod built over three nights.

It was a nervous Guy Madley, the Abbey’s business and projects officer, who signed for the charter, saying: “I normally sign forms for printers and computers but today I just signed for the Magna Carta!”

On Friday, joining St Albans Mayor Cllr Annie Brewster to view the document was the Minister of State for Justice and deputy leader of the House of Lords, Lord McNally, who has lived in St Albans for 20 years.

He told the Herts Advertiser he hadn’t realised until recently the key role St Albans had played in the creation of the charter, adding, “the road to Magna Carta starts here”.

Lord McNally said: “The rights of the individual against state power which is at the heart of Magna Carta has continued and is at the core of human rights today.”

He and Sir Robert Worcester, international chairman of the Magna Carta 800th Anniversary Committee, commended the Abbey and St Albans district council for bringing the document to the city and organising events to celebrate the milestone eight centuries.

Over the weekend, Verulamium Park returned to medieval times with re-enactments, battles and archery displays watched by thousands of onlookers. Special events included a talk on The New British Constitution given by Professor Vernon Bogdanor from Kings College, London, and a concert by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and St Albans Chamber Choir.

On Sunday there was a formal procession in which a facsimile of the Magna Carta was transported from Verulamium Park to the Abbey. The procession included Mayors, judges, clergy, aldermen, councillors, yeomen and Knights Templar.

The weekend ended with a packed celebratory Evensong at the Abbey in thanksgiving for the Magna Carta and the principles of human freedom and dignity which included a sermon from Sir Diarmaid MacCulloch of Oxford University about the enduring relevance of the document.

n The 1215 Magna Carta can be viewed at the Cathedral until August 29. Tickets can be booked at or for more information telephone 01727 864511.

A free exhibition inspired by the values of the Magna Carta entitled 1215: The Journey Starts Here, can be seen at the Museum of St Albans until September 15.