It is the contract between a ruler and his people that shaped democracy throughout the world, and now the best preserved copy of the Magna Carta is set to attract tens of thousands of visitors on its 800th birthday next year.
Hundreds of thousands of pounds of lottery money is expected to be heading to Salisbury Cathedral after church leaders there cleared the first and probably biggest hurdle in funding their ambitious plans to host the world in 2015.
Plans are advanced to 're-display and re-present' the Wiltshire cathedral's copy of the Magna Carta – the best-preserved of the four copies left –- inside the Chapter House, alongside other documents from the Cathedral's extensive archives.
They want to use the latest interpretation techniques to communicate the historic background and modern-day significance to the 'many extra' visitors expected next year.
An initial bid to the Heritage Lottery Fund, for money to put together a bigger bid for around half a million pounds, has been successful – now lottery chiefs will work with the cathedral on their plans.
In order to 'unlock' Heritage Lottery funds, the total amount will be more than £500,000, and the cathedral will need to raise nearly £200,000 in partnership funding. The oldest legal business in the city, Wilsons, has pledged £30,000 towards this total.
"We are delighted to have received this support from the Heritage Lottery Fund allowing us to develop our exciting plans for a new Magna Carta exhibition and other celebratory activities in 2015, bringing Magna Carta to many new audiences," said Martin Field, the deputy chapter clerk.
"The 'Great Charter' has inspired and influenced people to stand up for justice and freedom around the globe and across the ages. People will be able to come to Salisbury and experience for themselves the extraordinary sway the ideas expressed in this document continue to hold."
The acting Dean of Salisbury, Canon Edward Probert, admitted the Magna Carta had been in the cathedral's archives for centuries without anyone realising, after it was sent there in 1215.
"Magna Carta lay unnoticed in our archives for centuries before someone spotted it and realised its huge significance," he said.
"I'm delighted that this funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund will also enable us to employ a full time archivist so that other important manuscripts from our archives can be experienced by the public for the first time. Salisbury Cathedral's archive is a real medieval treasure trove with documents going back to the founding of the first cathedral at Old Sarum – so who knows what else might be discovered?"
Nerys Watts, head of the Heritage Lottery Fund South West, said: "Salisbury Cathedral's original 1215 Magna Carta is one of the world's most important documents and is still hugely relevant to our lives today. This initial HLF support will mean the cathedral can work up detailed plans to restore, re-present and open up the Magna Carta's fascinating story for visitors long into the future. We are looking forward to seeing these exciting plans progress over the coming months."