The Bayeux Tapestry isn’t — that is, it is not a woven tapestry. It is a wonderful example of embroidery that has miraculously survived almost a thousand years.
Bayeux was a pleasant surprise. When we are on a ship in port for a short time and want to travel some distance, we take a sheep tour [herded on and off a bus and around like sheep, baa!]. The visit to Bayeux was part of our tour to Omaha Beach, and we took it because another tour was full. We are glad we went.
Bayeux, pronounced “bye-you,” was one of the few towns on the coast of Normandy not destroyed in World War II. Not in as strategic a position as towns like Caen and Le Havre, it was not well fortified, and the German troops pulled back before it was attacked. Therefore the town still has some medieval foundations and structures as well as more complete buildings from the 15th and later centuries.
Founded on the river Aure about two thousand years ago, a number of crafts dependent on water like fishing, dyers, tanners and laundries were established. Over the years, the river was harnessed to supply power to flour, tannin and colza (rape seed) mills. The Cathedral dates from 1010, and its bishops received income from the surrounding land and some of the mills. The Cathedral has been reconstructed numerous times.
William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy fought the Battle of Hastings in 1066 and defeated Harold who had proclaimed himself King of England. William thus became “William the Conqueror.” William’s half-brother Odo also was at the battle brandishing a mace since, as Bishop of Bayeux, he wasn’t supposed to kill people.
There are a number of theories, but most presume that Odo commissioned the “tapestry” in 1070. It may have been done for the dedication of the new cathedral. In any case, it portrays history from a distinctly Norman point of view, although the English are shown as brave fighters.
Simply put, Harold is portrayed as captured by a French count and rescued and knighted by William. Harold proclaims loyalty to William with each hand on a stack of sacred relics, only to turn around and declare himself king when King Edward the Confessor of England dies. William gathers his forces and goes to England. Harold dies with an arrow in his eye. William is King of England and Duke of Normandy. The actual tapestry is much more elaborate than my explanation.
It is roughly 224 feet long and 18 inches wide. Some fifty-eight scenes run down the middle with borders showing a variety of birds, animals, domestic and biblical scenes. The main events occasionally overflow into the borders.. The colors are remarkably bright after nine hundred years.
Despite its subject, many scientists believe it was made in England using Anglo-Saxons who were known at the time for their skilled needlework.
Visiting the Bayeux Tapestry, one is given a hand-held device that describes each of the numbered scenes. Before we visited, we expected to just take a quick look. In the end, we kept moving only because there was a crowd of people behind us. We could have lingered longer.