The Magna Carta

Written by Teresa Dennard.

On Display in Houston

A rarely seen piece of history is making its way to Texas. The Magna Carta, which is considered by many to be the greatest constitutional document of all time, is coming to the Houston Museum of Natural Science from February 14 to August 17, 2014. Originally signed in 1215, the document established the most fundamental concepts of law—due process, trial by jury of one’s peers, the importance of a speedy and unbiased trial, and protection against excessive bail or fines or cruel and unusual punishment. It is the model upon which the United States Constitution was based.

One of the persons involved in bringing the 800 year old document to the state is Barbara Hawthorn, Vice President of Development and Membership at the Houston Museum. Even though she and her twin sister, Beth, were raised in Longview, she has many ties to Panola County--parents Neal and Gloria Hawthorn, grandparents the late Neal Hawthorn, Sr., and Mark and Alice Osborne and Rex and Pete Haggard. They consider the family home on Dixie Lake to be their second home. Barbara went to work at the Museum eleven years ago. “As part of my job, I get to help bring these unbelievably important exhibitions to the Museum. We’ve had exhibitions on the Dead Sea Scrolls, on the Terra Cotta Warriors in China, and now the Magna Carta. Almost every single person has heard of the Magna Carta, but they don’t necessarily know the importance of it.” The copy the Museum will display is a version of the 1217 document. There are only four in existence. One is owned privately, one is owned by the Salisbury Cathedral in England, and the one the Museum will get is owned by the Hereford Cathedral. Coming with the document is the King’s Writ which is a small document that King John sent out to the barons and sheriffs around the country telling them to prepare for the Magna Carta and to initiate it in their area. The Writ is the only known existing one of its kind.

One of the perks of being involved with this project is getting to travel to Hereford to discuss arrangements for bringing the Magna Carta to Houston. “Prince Charles is a patron of this particular cathedral and he was very supportive of them working with us,” says Barbara. “He hosted a dinner for us at his home in Wales and was a very gracious host.”

The Museum is presently constructing an exhibition to go along with the Magna Carta. Because the document is written in Latin, text panels will be used to translate the document into English. The Magna Carta is important for school age children to see because they study about the document in school. “Any time you can complement learning in the classroom, it’s a win-win situation,” says Barbara. “We need to relay the significance of the document to the people that come to the museum. We want to make it really simple, but engaging for everyone.” Frequently, exhibitions of this magnitude will travel from one museum to another, but this document will travel directly back to Hereford at the end of its stay.

The Museum, located in Houston’s Hermann Park is a multi-story science center where millions of families, students and visitors come to experience the earth’s wonders. The Museum houses a planetarium, a giant screen theater, a butterfly center and a variety of permanent exhibit areas that examine astronomy, space science, Native American culture, paleontology, energy, chemistry, gems and minerals, seashells, Texas wildlife and much more. To find out more about the Museum, its hours and admission prices, visit their website, www.hmns.org. According to Barbara, “The Museum is very kid friendly, but adults enjoy it as well. Any age would be able to find something they enjoy by being there.”