RARELY seen charters outlining the first rights granted on ordinary people in the medieval era have been brought together for public display from the archives at Durham Cathedral.

The cathedral is putting on show its three issues of the Magna Carta, including the only surviving 1216 issue and further engrossments from 1225 and 1300, along with three Forest Charters as part of its Open Treasure exhibition.

Magna Carta and the Forest Charters was launched in the Open Treasure Collections Gallery today, when the first visitors ran the rule over the priceless documents.

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It is being staged to mark the 800th anniversary of the Forest Charters, which granted access to land and natural resources in crown-owned woodland, moorland, heath and even some neighbouring villages.

Like the Magna Carta, or Great Charter, they are considered as among the most important documents in the country’s history, and a cornerstone of modern democracy.

The exhibition features one of the only two surviving initial 1217 issues of the Forest Charter, plus further versions from 1225 and 1300.

That initial Forest Charter was preceded by two years by the first Magna Carta, which established the principle that everyone is subject to the law, even the King himself, and guaranteed the rights of individuals, the right to justice and to a fair trial.

The Forest Charters went on to give commoners rights, privileges and protection against the abuses of the King, guaranteeing the ordinary man access to the land for subsistence and farming.

They have been used over the centuries to protect land from enclosure by royalty and the aristocracy, ensuring the preservation of many of the open spaces we see today.

Performing the opening, the Dean of Durham, the Very Reverend Andrew Tremlett, said: “I’m utterly excited about this exhibition, which shows some of the original founding documents from our legal system, dating from 800 years ago.

“Durham Cathedral is unique in holding three copies of the Magna Carta and three Forest Charters.”

He described the cathedral collection as, “an utterly priceless treasure trove.”

Exhibition curator, the cathedral’s exhibitions officer, Marie-Therese Mayne, said it is a rare glimpse of the country’s founding legal charters.

“It’s wonderful to show these extraordinary documents and for the public to be able to see them together for the first time.

“It should not be missed. They’ll be going back into storage in three months to keep them safe.”

Cathedral canon librarian, the Reverend Canon Rosalind Brown, said: “I have oversight of all the historic collections on behalf of the cathedral chapter.

“To be the canon librarian who first puts them on display is quite something.

“When I was at school I thought there was only one Magna Carta, and now to have this opportunity to show all these marvellous documents is amazing.”

The exhibition, sponsored by worldwide legal specialist DAC Beachcroft, can be viewed until September 9.