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Canterbury Cathedral buys rare engraving of Magna Carta for £3,400

By Joe Wright

A rare engraving of Canterbury’s Magna Carta has returned to the city’s cathedral after being sold at auction for £3,400.

The exact copy of King John’s famous legal document was bought by the landmark’s archives team.

The purchase was financed with funds from Friends of the National Libraries, a national charity which aims to keep historic documents in the UK, and the Friends of Canterbury Cathedral.

King John, who signed the Magna Carta in 1215
King John, who signed the Magna Carta in 1215

The engraving was made by publisher and map seller John Pine in 1733.

Cressida Williams, head of archives and the library at the cathedral, says the new addition – which had a top guide price of £5,000 when it went under the hammer at Canterbury Auction Galleries – will help tell the Magna Carta story.

She said: “We have a registered version of Magna Carta – which is a copy of the document written into a medieval book – but this does not have the same impact as something which represents the document itself.

“We anticipate presenting the new purchase to visiting groups.

“We regularly receive visits from school groups who are studying this period and others also have a high level of interest in Magna Carta.”

A rare engraving of Canterbury's Magna Carta of 1215 has been saved for the city
A rare engraving of Canterbury's Magna Carta of 1215 has been saved for the city

Only four copies of the original 1215 Magna Carta survive. One is owned by Lincoln Cathedral, another by Salisbury, and the other two are stored at the British Library in London.

New research has shown that one of the copies in the British Library was originally kept at Canterbury Cathedral in the Middle Ages before being removed from the cathedral collections in the 1630s.

It is thought it may have passed through the hands of Stephen Langton, a 13th century Archbishop of Canterbury.

However, the original Canterbury Magna Carta, the only one to have the Great Seal of King John still attached, was damaged in a fire in 1731 and a failed attempt at restoration rendered it barely readable by the naked eye.

Experts say this makes the 1733 engraving, printed on vellum, a particularly important piece of national history.

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