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Fleeting Wonders: The Magna Carta is Visiting America for 7 Days

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The Magna Carter of 1215, written in iron gall ink on parchment paper, in medieval Latin. (Photo: Earthsound/Wikimedia Commons)

Was Beyonce just in town? Didn’t notice—we were too busy getting excited for the arrival of the Magna Carta.

The elderly parchment document is on an international tour, titled “Magna Carta 800: Sharing the Legacy of Freedom.” The 1217 version of the charter, which is about the size of a high school yearbook cover, is making stops in just a few select places—China, Hong Kong, Luxembourg, Malta, Portugal, Singapore, and America. The document is on loan from Hereford Cathedral and traveled first-class on British Airways, perhaps reclining on a lie-flat bed.

It’s in New York for a fleeting seven days, its only touch-down in America. The charter is currently on display at the New York Historical Society until September 30th, where it is being feted for its 800th birthday. Like any worthy symbol of liberty, the Magna Carta’s birthday party will feature toasts by special guests at the United Nations General Assembly. It is accompanied on its world tour by the only surviving 1215 Kings Writ from Runnymede.

The 1297 version of Magna Carta, one of four originals of the document.

A 1297 version of Magna Carta, a bit younger and spritelier. (Photo: J.delanoy/Wikimedia Commons)

In case you forgot, the Magna Carta (or “Great Charter”) is famous for establishing basic but then-revolutionary concepts of democracy, and serving as an inspiration for many future charters, such as the U.S. Constitution. The Magna Carta was initiated in 1215 by King John of England, who wanted to draft a peace treaty with rebel barons dissatisfied with his rule.

The king established that everyone—including himself!—was subject to the same rules of law, and equally deserving of justice and a free trial. Only four copies are known to exist of the 1217 version, which lists a total of 43 stipulations. 

Every day, we track down a fleeting wonder—something amazing that’s only happening right now. Have a tip for us? Tell us about it! Send your temporary miracles to cara@atlasobscura.com.