Over this last weekend we saw a packed programme of events in Salisbury and the Cathedral, celebrating the 800 Anniversary of Magna Carta. In Salisbury the Charter is an everyday fact of life. We have grown used to having it around. After all, it has been here for eight centuries! So the events of 2015 at the Cathedral are a way of reminding ourselves of the Magna Carta’s enduring values of fairness, universal rights and justice.
It was a weekend of contrasts, over 700 people walked from Old Sarum to the Cathedral and over 3000 joined in our tea party in the Cathedral Close – Liber-tea, there was outdoor worship and a special Eucharist and a pageant yesterday.
Those who visit the Cathedral until September can take the opportunity to enjoy some Alternative Perspectives on Magna Carta. Alternative Perspectives is a montage of tiles, which combine terracotta with black and white slip in a process inspired by the original medieval tiles found in the Cathedral. The montage is a result of a series of workshops held at HMP Erlestoke and the tiles explore rights and justice from the point of view of offenders.
Elizabeth Williams, Learning and Skills Manager, HMP Erlestoke commented that this was not just an arts project but it provided a forum in which prisoners began to think about issues such as human rights and wrong – and the justice system. As we mark 800 years of Magna Carta it shouldn’t just be about celebrating the year but it should provide us, like those at HMP Erlestoke, the opportunity to consider issues such as human rights and wrong and the justice system in this country and throughout the world.
Each day gathered under the “Prisoners of Conscience Window”, designed by Gabriel Loire, we pray in the Cathedral for those who are imprisoned because of belief or conscience. This month we are praying for Amnesty International’s Prisoner of Conscience Sombath Somphone from Laos. Sombath Somphone is a civil society leader who has dedicated his life to sustainable development and poverty reduction in Laos. He advocated the strengthening of civil society as a way of ensuring that development benefited the whole population. He disappeared at 6pm on the 15th December 2012 after his car was stopped at a police check point. Whilst the authorities deny arresting Sombath their investigations have given little information or details and show a lack of thoroughness and urgency.
It is a reminder to us that 800 years after the sealing of the 1215 Magna Carta we still need as a society to be consider how power is used to control and how justice at times is still unjust. Sometimes that means being open to an alternative perspective.
For full details of events visit salisburycathedral.co.uk/events
This is based on an article first printed in the Salisbury Journey on the 11th June 2015