On Thursday, a 45-year-old man wielding a hammer reportedly smashed through a glass screen protecting one of only four copies of the original Magna Carta. The incident, which predictably has a lot of people making National Treasure jokes, happened at Salisbury Cathedral. The man, who is not Nicolas Cage, is now in police custody. The document remains intact and there are no reported injuries.
In a statement to Gizmodo, Wiltshire Police said that alarms went off at the cathedral a little before 5pm after a man tried to “smash the glass box” surrounding the historic document. Staff were then made aware of the incident, and the police were called. A suspect is in custody as of this morning, “arrested on suspicion of attempted theft of the Magna Carta.” The suspect, who police said matched the description given by witnesses, was also arrested for possession of an offensive weapon and criminal damage.
A hammer-wielding man tried to escape the scene, but cathedral staff brought him down, Dean of Salisbury Nicholas Papadopulos told The Guardian. According to the paper, Papadopulos said the incident happened “in front of horrified onlookers” and staff held the man down “for 12 minutes” until police arrived. Police said in their statement that they “are aware there were a number of witnesses to the incident who may not have spoken to the police.”
It makes sense that there would be a number of people around as someone tried to smash the Magna Carta’s protective screen. The incident reportedly happened shortly before the exhibition closed for the day. The Salisbury Cathedral website notes that it has “the best preserved” example of the known copies of the Magna Carta. The exhibition is currently closed “until further notice,” the cathedral website states. “We aim to reopen as soon as possible.”
It remains unclear what the man’s motivation was for allegedly trying to steal the 13th-century document in broad daylight.