When a hammer-wielding thief tried to steal a piece of English history, an impromptu squad of law-abiding citizens—including two American tourists—worked to stop him. The clash inside Salisbury Cathedral shows that respect for the rule of law—and the ancient laws themselves—isn’t dead.
The Magna Carta is a charter of rights. It was signed in 1215 by England’s King John. Many people consider it the founding document of English law. The charter pronounced that even kings were subject to the law. It also granted swift justice to accused persons and protected church rights—all principles eventually repeated in the U.S. Constitution.
Most of the Magna Carta’s liberties actually had to do with the relationship between the king and the medieval nobles—not ordinary citizens. However, the Magna Carta remains an important symbol of liberty. It is often quoted by scholars, lawyers, and politicians.
Salisbury Cathedral houses one of only four existing copies of the famous document. The Magna Carta’s importance—plus a healthy dose of respect, boldness, and civic duty—made a couple from Louisiana intervene when they thought the manuscript was in danger.
Alexis Delcambre saw a man emerge from the bathroom at the cathedral’s Chapter House, or clergy meeting room. The man went to the case holding the Magna Carta and started walloping the glass with a hammer.
Alexis quickly raised the alarm. Her husband Matthew and other bystanders tried to keep the thief behind closed doors.
The thief muscled his way out. But Matthew Delcambre gave chase. He grabbed the man’s arm near an outdoor courtyard gate and knocked the hammer away. At that point, a church employee tackled the thief. He held him down until more help arrived.
Thankfully, the Magna Carta was under two layers of thick glass. It wasn’t damaged.
Even more than the Magna Carta, God’s law embodies our righteous, trustworthy, unchangeable, and truthful God. Sadly, many Christians don’t defend God or the Bible as quickly as the group in Salisbury Cathedral defended a human-made document.
Delcambre is humble about his part in the thwarted theft. “It wasn’t me by myself,” he says. The quick response of the Delcambres and the church workers stopped the thief and protected the prized document. Delcambre calls it “completely a group effort.”
Now thanks to the Magna Carta, the would-be thief will be subject to the law of the land. He will likely feel the hammer of swift justice.