Embroidering the Magna Carta to mark 800th anniversary

Stitching done by School Reporters in Magna Carta replica Image copyright BBC SCHOOL REPORT
Image caption Stitching done by School Reporters in an embroidery marking the Magna Carta's 800th anniversary

The Magna Carta - Latin for 'the Great Charter' - was sealed in Runnymede in 1215.

King John was forced by his barons to agree to the conditions of the Magna Carta, which placed him under the law, allowing more freedom and rights for the people. Some people argue that this was the beginning of the road that led to democracy.

This year is the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, and we were two of three students from our school who were fortunate enough to see the original, learn about its history and significance in relation to today, as well as taking part in sewing an artwork to commemorate it.

Cornelia Parker, a British artist, came up with the idea of using the Wikipedia article on the Magna Carta, as it appeared on its 799th anniversary. With every little detail, including subscripts and references, this resulted in a year-long's hard work and toil in a piece of artwork approximately 13 metres long.

The artwork was embroidered by more than 200 people from all walks of life - including law professionals, human rights activists, prisoners, Members of Parliament, artists, young people and many more. In that list were renowned American Edward Snowden, and the mother of murdered schoolboy Stephen Lawrence, Baroness Doreen Lawrence OBE.

The embroidered Magna Carta was unveiled to the public for the first time on 15 May 2015 at the British Library, with the exhibition 'Magna Carta: Law, Liberty, Legacy' having opened in March.

As the youngest contributors to the piece, we (Heidi and Holly together with our schoolmates Stephanie, Million, Catherine and Eden) sewed the words 'Salisbury Cathedral', 'Durham Cathedral', 'South Africa' and 'Australia'.

Even though these few words may, you would assume, take half-an-hour to do, in reality it took more than two hours for six people to complete.

The complexity in the challenge was not being dismayed at pricking ourselves with the needle, but in stitching the words in a particular format so different to what we had learned in school.

Image copyright BBC SCHOOL REPORT
Image caption The embroidery was the idea of artist Cornelia Parker, who was interviewed by the School Reporters Heidi, Holly and Million

During our evening at the British Library, we had the chance to experience a couple of speeches by some significant figures, consisting of the artist herself, Cornelia Parker, and the founder of Wikipedia, Jimmy Wales.

As well as watching Cornelia expressing her thoughts on her achievement, we managed to interview her on the subject.

When asked about her choice of the Magna Carta, compared to any other historical document, she said: "I spent a lot of time on this Wikipedia page about the Magna Carta. I want to take this off the internet and make it into an object."

We also asked her about the particular technique used (embroidery), and why she chose this over other artistic techniques, to which she stated: "I thought I could literally embroider history."

Image copyright BBC SCHOOL REPORT
Image caption Everyone who did some stitching was credited in the exhibition programme
Image copyright BBC School Report
Image caption Doreen Lawrence said taking part and also completing some of the sewing was a "real experience"

Additionally, Baroness Doreen Lawrence OBE, when asked about how she felt when approached with the proposition of taking part in this memorable occasion, said: "Considering over the years I've been struggling for justice, to be part of that was really an experience for me."

For the students of La Retraite School, who took part in this historic project, there was a sense of pride and honour amongst us all, for being the youngest participants in it, and for being able to see two of the original 1215 Magna Carta documents at the British Library exhibition.

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