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The Magna Carta (image via Wikimedia Commons)

While the Magna Carta is considered a foundational document to the idea of the freedom of citizens, it does not guarantee citizens’ freedom to handle the Magna Carta. Whether the intentions of a 45-year-old-man arrested Thursday at Salisbury Cathedral in Salisbury, England was to destroy one of the oldest legal documents on record, to steal it, or simply to get more hands-on with his understanding of history, is unclear. What is known is that the visitor to the cathedral’s Chapter House attacked the case housing the 800-year-old document with a hammer, destroying the glass and leading to a complete evacuation of the cathedral.

The Magna Carta’s enclosure after the attack (image via Wiltshire Police)

The man was quickly subdued, first by citizen’s arrest, then by staff after other visitors raised a hue and cry, and finally by police. Reverend Nick Papadopoulos is quoted by BBC News as noting “… it was pretty thick glass so it hadn’t yielded easily despite having a hammer hit it.” The case nonetheless sustained a great deal of damage, and the exhibition of this copy of the Magna Carta — thought to be the finest of the four known copies in existence — is temporarily suspended. The Magna Carta has been relocated for safe-keeping while the organization assesses its condition.

“We are very grateful to all who dealt with the situation so swiftly and effectively,” a spokesperson for the Cathedral said in a statement. “We are very sorry that, for the time being, our copy of Magna Carta will not be available to visitors and will have it back on display as soon as we can.”

One theory is that the man may have been trying to steal the document. Apparently, British authorities take a different stance on the theft of antiquities when the vital pieces of culture and history are of British provenance, as opposed to unfortunate victims of their colonial practices.

Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....