22 January 2018
Jesse’s Hereford Times column: Mappa Mundi exchange

The airwaves and social media were humming last week after Question Time at the Courtyard. The programme has long since stopped being about the sensible discussion of current issues, alas. But amid all the argy-bargy and shouting, there was, I thought, one real gleam of light.

That was when one of the panel suggested that in return for President Macron’s loan of the Bayeux Tapestry, the UK should loan France a copy of the Magna Carta.

It set me thinking. Why not? More to the point, why not lend them Hereford’s own Magna Carta from 1217? And going further, why not add to that the Magna Mappa Mundi, the great map of the world and the largest mediaeval map still in existence?

Of course, the process would not be easy. The Cathedral would need to give its permission, of course… but then the Magna Carta has just returned from a highly successful tour of the USA, so that might not be impossible.

There would be the costs of transportation and insurance… but this would be a national loan of national treasures, so that should not be a problem.

And there would be an empty space in the Mappa Mundi gallery at the Cathedral… but why not approach the British Museum or one of the great galleries for the loan of a masterpiece, a Rembrandt or a Titian or a classical treasure, which could be displayed there instead?

It would be a brilliant win for the nation, because this combination symbolises values which we need to respect more than ever today: the rule of law, the idea of shared community, the belief in one world.

It has a specific reference to France, because the barons who signed Magna Carta were of course Norman barons, and at that time Britain was again at threat of a French invasion, later defeated. And the 13th Century is precisely the period to which we trace the first origins of parliament.

But it would also be a brilliant win for Herefordshire. Nowhere else in the country, in the world, in the cosmos, has this pairing of priceless national treasures. It would be a huge boost to our county, and to its national and international standing, as well as a reminder of the importance of “culture” and soft power.

And if you haven’t seen these treasures for yourself recently, head over to the Cathedral. You’ll be amazed.