Families are once again flocking to Washington, D.C. for their summer vacations. It is marvelous. After nearly a year and a half of being locked down, the world is resuming.
The ghost town mystique of our nation’s capital city was a difficult thing to witness, like one of those infamous scenes in the film High Noon where Gary Cooper finds himself all alone on a dusty, windswept western town’s main street – the tumbleweeds floating by as if cotton balls of loneliness and despair.
It is particularly heartening to witness all the iron gates being brought down from around the US Capitol, the US Supreme Court, the Library of Congress, the House and Senate office buildings — even as the iron gates remain wrapped around the White House. My prayer is that those gates will soon come down too after the 2020 summer of rioting and mayhem.
Freedom is returning before our very eyes.
As if welcoming this national emergence from a year of pandemic, loss, toppling, and violence, one of Washington’s crown jewel museums has just opened one of the finest exhibitions in the history of the city.
“Magna Carta: Tyranny. Justice. Liberty” is a must-see show as families come to Washington looking for exciting options which are both open and free. This tour-de-force exhibition is not to be missed; it is a genuinely once in a lifetime collection of some of the most important documents in the history of western civilization all under one roof and in the same room.
Its theme is the emergence of liberty in the modern world. How perfectly timed for the moment we find ourselves in on the cusp of one of the most difficult years in American history.
Not since attending the Library of Congress’s famed “1492” exhibit in the 1990s, which among other things featured original pathbreaking maps by the hands of famed Italian astronomer Galileo, have I been honored to witness such treasures as the ones at the Museum of the Bible, curated by Jeff Kloha, who is one of the most under-rated experts in our nation.
Families will view such original treasures as the 1217 Magna Carta – one of only four in existence – which essentially served as one of the most consequential and pivotal documents of the emergence of human freedom and ordered liberty in the modern world.
Too, the Museum of the Bible has paired that singular document with the only copy in the world of the King’s Writ. This document is a 1215 parchment, issued at Runnymede in England, that shifts the medieval idea away from total power from a king to the fundamental idea that even a sovereign head of state must be subject to the same laws as other citizens.
This was a radical idea in its time, formalized in these astonishing documents, and serving as the beginning of a seismic shift which would lead all the way toward the founding of America and rooted in the very same ideas of human dignity and liberty.
I was mesmerized by another document in this exhibition, the so-called Sandwich Magna Carta dating from the year 1300, which was personally viewed by one of the most important defenders of the American revolution, Thomas Paine. He saw that very Magna Carta in 1759.
Hawkwood International is a full partner in this venture with the Museum of the Bible and their bountiful collaboration is a glory to behold.
The reason all of this matters so profoundly is that these very documents were the fountainhead influencers of our Declaration of Independence, United States Constitution, and the Bill of Rights – all of which are also on display in Washington at the National Archives. None of the Magna Cartas, nor the King’s Writ, have been viewed in the United States before now.
It is not that the Magna Carta created America’s constitutional republic, per se. Rather it is that the ideas contained in these documents confirm that all rulers must be held to account under the rule of law.
The reason the Museum of the Bible has joined with Hawkwood in this pathbreaking exhibition is because of the profound Biblical echo that rings with unflinching clarity throughout this show, that rulers are ordained by Providence Himself consistent with what Isaiah teaches from the mists of time: “Woe unto those who make unjust laws.”
This is the essential bridgeway to the creation of the United States of America. Because by the 17th and 18th centuries, America’s quest for independence from the British Empire was underway. Our founders knew there was a profound connection between Magna Carta, the teachings of the Bible, and a newly-emerging country rooted in ordered human liberty and the rule of law.
In order to achieve those goals, Magna Carta and the Bible were not merely useful tools; they were the fundamental and indispensable guiding lights of navigation and ballast.
When Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, made “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” the catechesis of our national founding, he was echoing the powerful impact of the very documents on display in this exhibition.
As I was preparing to depart the exhibition, I thought to myself: What could any exhibition ever achieve to top this regarding the study of liberty? But there, before my eyes, the answer was on display: the original letter of Lord Cornwallis to George Washington calling for “a cessation of hostilities” to the American Revolutionary War, replete with Cornwallis’ own sealed wax. This bravura document will give viewers a chill down the spine.
There are plenty of other major documents here too, but I was particularly smitten by the films being shown nearby, starring Andy Serkis of the Tolkien films’ fame, that I know families with children will find a welcomed sidebar and respite to help explain the centrality of what is being viewed.
The word ‘groundbreaking’ is overused. But it aptly applies in this instance to what the Museum of the Bible and its partner Hawkwood International have achieved: A once in a lifetime show that those who love and revere American liberty are almost honor-bound to witness.
“MAGNA CARTA: TYRANNY. JUSTICE. LIBERTY” will be on display at the Museum of the Bible through January 2, 2022, in Washington, D.C.
Photo from Museum of the Bible