The Bayeux Embroidery

Bayeux (the second syllable is pronounced by the French as if saying you but stopping halfway through) is a delightful little French town, known for being the birthplace of William the Bastard, who set forth to England in 1066 to reclaim the throne ofthe late Edward the Confesser from the ursurper Harold. The resulting Battle of Hastings gave us the modern English language (all those Latin bits were introduced through the French of the Normans) and the beginning of centuries of bickering over the ownership of Normandy and Brittany between England and France.

The actual origins of the famed Bayeux Tapestry, which is actually seventy feet of wool embroidery on linen, are unclear, but it is currently believedmto have been commissioned in England by Odo, William’s half-brother and bishop of Bayeux who joined William in battle. It’s about eighteen inches high and surprisingly dramatic and detailed for using only four colors, four stitches, and no field of depth.

Some of the most interesting scenes involve ships, which were built in the Norwegian style, a historical reproduction of which is in the museum (both boat and museum are awesome!). If you visit, there is an audioguide which takes you quickly (thank goodness for the pause button and no crowds!) through over forty individual scenes, some pleasant, others funny, and some quite gruesome.

The museum is quite good, including a computer terminal where you can zoom in on the front and the back of any part of the tapestry. There are artifacts, miniature models, mannequins, and samples of the tapestry materials, war, boat building, town life, castles, the Domesday Book (facsimile presented by Prince Charles—super cool!), and all kinds of things related to the Norman Conquest. The cinema upstairs is quite skippable, but the lobby for the movie has a life-size facimile of the tapestry on the walls if you want another look.

Sorry about no pictures, but they were rather strict about that. But I did buy a small book that is a 1:9 scale representation that stretches and stretches and stretches…come over and I’ll show it to you

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The wheel was dry, but those are real mill gates.

Bayeux was a nice little town with a gorgeous cathedral. It was the first town officially liberated by Allied forces moving inland after Worl War II, and it survived intact because a local spy convinced the Allies no Germans were there.

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They have a nice WWII museum, accompanied by an international memorial for journalists killed in active war zones since 1944. There is plenty more space for the engraved white pillars. . . . Let’s hope we won’t need them.

(Which brought up an important question in my head: What constitutes “journalist” now? If you are a blogger or tweeter and you are killed, does your name go up too? Is that the reason there are more and more names added in the last fifteen years — because there are more ways to pass on information?)

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The cathedral sure lit up pretty at night.

The town itself seemed like a sleepy little thing with a super-touristy center for a block or two around the tapestry (where tour groups got dumped off in buses). It was fun to visit, though pretty dead in the evenings and off-season.

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2 thoughts on “The Bayeux Embroidery

  1. sheila says:

    Ah. I would like to see the Baueaux Tapestry. It has gesture historical significance and it’s embroidered too! I will want to see the wee book

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