The Library of Congress is commemorating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta with an exhibition – Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor, a symposium, and a series of talks starting this year. Through January 19, 2015, the Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta, one of four remaining originals from 1215 is on display along with other rare materials from the Library’s rich collections to tell the story of 800 years of its influence on the history of political liberty.November 28 marks the 75th anniversary of the Lincoln Cathedral Magna Carta‘s deposit to the Library of Congress for safekeeping during World War II. In an official ceremony in what is now the Jefferson Building, the then-British Ambassador to the United States, Lord Lothian (Philip Henry Kerr), delivered a speech entrusting the Library of Congress with the precious document. The then-Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish also gave a short speech. Lord Lothian handed MacLeish the key to Magna Carta’s display case, in front of which the two gentlemen shook hands.
On November 6, 2014, the Library of Congress officially opened the Magna Carta: Muse and Mentor exhibition with a ceremony in the Jefferson Building’s Great Hall. In one part of the program, the entrusting ceremony from 1939 was recreated with individual speeches and a ceremonial key exchange.
A little bit about the significance of the gentlemen who participated in this year’s ceremony. In 1939, the Dean of Lincoln Cathedral had not traveled to the United States, possibly because of the outbreak of war, to oversee the transportation of Magna Carta to Washington, DC from the New York World’s Fair. For this year’s ceremony, Dean Philip Buckler represented Lincoln Cathedral – the steward of the 1215 Magna Carta borrowed for the exhibition. The current Lord Lothian (the 13th Marquess of Lothian) is a sitting member of the House of Lords and is a peer descendant of the Lord Lothian (the 11th Marquess of Lothian), who is featured in the 1939 photograph. Because the current Lord Lothian is not also the British Ambassador, we were fortunate that the current Ambassador, Sir Peter Westmacott, quite jovially agreed to participate in the ceremony. The Librarian of Congress, Dr. James H. Billington, of course served as the entrustee.
At the end of his speech, Dean Buckler delivered a line from the 1939 ceremony, “Mr. Librarian, I have the greatest pleasure in entrusting Magna Carta to your benevolent care.” Dean Buckler then produced a key to Magna Carta’s case. He handed the key, which dangled from a grey silk ribbon with tassel, to Lord Lothian, who passed the key to the British Ambassador. Sir Peter then presented the key to the Librarian of Congress.
Update: Event video added below.