A Canterbury tale.

Hard cheese on Canterbury Cathedral: the British Library has got its copy of Magna Carta. Admittedly, its identity as the Canterbury version has only just been established. Even so, one hopes that the British Library, owning not one, but two of the four original Magna Cartas to survive, which seems rather more than its fair share, will be inspired to return it on loan, perhaps to celebrate the works for which the Cathedral is now raising money. These will include better visitor facilities and a proper museum. Until then, the Cathedral’s remarkable library must make do with its collection of other charters and documents, many of which are just as old, if not more so. They include a Charter of 1214, which also bears King John’s great seal.

I was lucky enough to see it the other day, before being given a numinous moonlit tour of the Cathedral. ‘Beeswax,’ remarked one of the other guests, an apiarist, as he examined the seal. Bees, he reminded me, were essential to the medieval economy— and not only for the pollination of plants and the provision of a rare source of sweetness in honey. Candles were made of their wax, as well as cos- metics. A microscopic analysis of the great seals on Magna Carta would, no doubt, reveal the pollen record of the time. I’d like to think that some came from the wildflowers around Runnymede.