Talks at the Guildhall to celebrate the UNESCO Memory of the World Register

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© UNESCO

The Mappa Mundi, Magna Carta and Bath’s Roman Curse Tablets will be the subjects of talks presented by Bath & North East Somerset Council highlighting remarkable documents inscribed on the UNESCO Memory of the World International and UK Registers. The Registers recognise the world’s outstanding documentary heritage.

The talks, staged by the Council’s Heritage Services in the Bath Guildhall on 14, 21 and 28 January 2015, present the perfect opportunity to learn more about some of the most significant written documents in the history of the world, which are held right here in the UK.

Mr Ben Stevens, Cabinet Member for Sustainable Development, said on that occasion: “These documents were of great importance in the past and are also of great importance to us today – helping us to better understand the world in which we live.”

The first talk about the Mappa Mundi took place on Wednesday 14 January. It was delivered by Sarah Arrowsmith, the Education Officer at Hereford Cathedral where it is displayed.  This is the only complete example of a large mediaeval world map intended for public display.  It gives us a window onto the world as it was known in the middle ages.  It is drawn on vellum (calf skin) and holds historical, anthropological, ethnographical, theological, biblical and classical images and information.  It presents a view of a world very different from ours. It wasn't intended to help find places. It relied as much on pictures as on words; many of its viewers couldn't read. It was to be treated reverentially. The world is depicted as round and flat. It's populated with such diverse creatures as Adam and Eve, Noah and his beasts, Emperor Caesar Augustus, a man riding a very unrealistic crocodile, and an imaginary being called a Sciapod who shelters himself from the burning sun with one huge foot. Mythological beasts jostle for space. The 12 winds are named and represented by dragons and grotesque squatting figures. Jerusalem is the center of the world. Countries and oceans are squeezed and stretched to fit into the map's circle. The Mappa Mundi is a work of history, zoology, anthropology and especially theology. It reveals how 13th-century scholars interpreted the world in spiritual terms. The map covers all time, from creation to doomsday. Mappa Mundi is on prominent display at the gorgeous cathedral in Hereford, England

On Wednesday 21 January, the Magna Carta was the subject for Seif El Rashidi, the Magna Carta 800 Manager at Salisbury Cathedral.  2015 will be the 800th anniversary of its signing.  Only four copies of the original Magna Carta exist, and one is held by Salisbury Cathedral.  Considered by some to be the most significant document in our history, it set out for the first time the English principles of liberty, law and democracy and had a worldwide influence which endures to this day.  The charter imposed constraints on royal authority in the areas of taxation, feudal rights and justice, thereby limiting unfair and arbitrary behaviour by the king towards his subjects. The Magna Carta was signed in June 1215 between the barons of Medieval England and King John. 'Magna Carta' is Latin and means "Great Charter". The Magna Carta was one of the most important documents of Medieval England. It is regarded as “an icon for freedom and democracy throughout the world”.           

The final talk – to be given by Roman Baths Manager Stephen Clews about the Roman Curse Tablets from Bath – will be on Wednesday 28 January 2015.  They were included on the UK Register earlier this year. The Tablets are prayers requesting the assistance of the goddess Sulis Minerva in righting wrongs and ask for sometimes blood curdling punishment for the perpetrators of crimes. Some were written backwards to increase their potency. They provide a very different insight into the Roman world from that which comes down to us from other surviving documents.

UNESCO launched the Memory of the World Programme in 1992 to guard against collective amnesia calling upon the preservation of the valuable archive holdings and library collections all over the world ensuring their wide dissemination. The Programme vision is that the world's documentary heritage belongs to all, should be fully preserved and protected for all and, with due recognition of cultural mores and practicalities, should be permanently accessible to all without hindrance. The Programme is thus intended to protect documentary heritage, and to help networks of experts to exchange information and raise resources for the preservation of, and the access to, documentary and archival collections of valuable records.