History Comes Alive (Official Post #3)

On May 18th, we went to the town of Salisbury to explore Salisbury Cathedral. Since I am sharing this blog day with another classmate, I will only be blogging about some of the things we did. So, look for Carter’s blog to explain the rest!

Salisbury Cathedral has a medieval library, complete with 8,000 volumes dating back to the 9th century. Our class was lucky enough to see some of these volumes. We got a tour of the library from the cathedral archivist, who explained the history of the library and the books as well as showing us some of the medieval volumes. The library was built in 1445 specifically to house the growing collection of hand-written volumes in the cathedral’s possession, but the origins of the library go back to the former cathedral site in Old Sarum. The library still has about 60 books from the scribes at Old Sarum, and this constitutes the largest collection of books from the Norman era still with the original owner. The archivist showed us psalters from the 10th century, early mathematics texts, and an early translation of Galileo’s controversial book, The System of the World in Four Dialogues, among other things. It’s amazing that so many of these volumes survived to today. The archivist explained that there was a point in the library’s history, about 130 years after it was founded, when the building fell into disrepair. There is one contemporary account that describes the library as having broken windows, through which the writer could see birds nesting on a Norman work.

My favorite part of the cathedral was the chapter house, where the monks used to meet and discuss monastery business. The architecture and decoration here was amazing. The carvings around the room depict different scenes from the Bible in painstaking detail. The roof is supported by one large column in the center of the room, which rises to the ceiling to branch off into the far corners of the room. This is all well and good, but the main attraction in the chapter house these days is the Magna Carta exhibit. The exhibit features one of the four surviving original copies of the Magna Carta, signed in 1215. Surrounding the document are displays explaining the Magna Carta, its impact when it was signed, and the impact it has had in history moving forward.

The name Magna Carta means “The Great Charter,” and it was a document written by the barons of King John. King John had imposed heavy taxes on his barons and refused to obey the law, so his barons forced him to negotiate. The most famous clause gave free men the right to justice and a fair trial for the first time, and the first clause guarantees the freedom of the English church from the King’s intervention. Magna Carta had a rough start because King John had no intention of keeping the promises he made, throwing England into a civil war that continued after his death. Magna Carta eventually became law, and it has since had a global impact; it has shown up alongside other symbols of liberty in political imagery. Magna Carta even shaped America. The appeal of the document crossed the Atlantic and helped shape arguments such as “no taxation without representation” and the Fifth Amendment, which states that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.”




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