We were in the neighbourhood, so my sister suggested we drop into the Normandy town of Bayeux and check out the Bayeux Tapestry. Now I’m always the first to admit my ignorance of something, and although I had heard of the work, I have to say I knew nothing about it. I imagined an old tapestry, hanging vertically in a cold, dark, ancient chapel somewhere in France. But mate was I in for a history lesson.
As I contorted our hire car through the twisty, narrow streets of downtown Bayeux, my sister told me what La Tapisserie de Bayeux was all about. Far from being a shaggy old drape in a church somewhere, the tapestry is actually a long ‘scroll’ upon which is depicted the Conquest of England in 1066 by William the Conqueror, who was presumably named after this bit of conquering. Or is that conquerage? Anyway, it is believed to have been made a few years after the battle, which is nearly 1000 years ago, craft fans.
After finding a car park, we walked to the grand old museum building and stumped up our euros for a couple of tickets. We were given an audio guide which would explain the story portrayed by the work, and directed towards a long, dimly lit room which contained the famous tapestry.
Getting my first look, I was amazed at how long the Bayeux Tapestry was. Contained in a glass case, it ran the length of the room and disappeared around a corner. Turns out the 50cm high piece is 70 metres long. Considering the mighty tale depicted by the Tapestry, the craftsters would have needed all that length, plenty of yarn, and a bloody long time, to do it justice.
Not knowing much about the finer points of textile art, I soon learnt that the Bayeux Tapestry isn’t actually a tapestry at all, but rather an embroidery. However, calling the famous historical work ‘The Bayeux Embroidery’ would have made it sound like something nanna stitched up for the dining room table, so they went with ‘Tapestry’ anyway.
The Bayeux Tapestry comprises 58 numbered panels that guide the reader through a wild tale of travel, adventure, intrigue, treachery, battle and conquest. The level of detail, and the overall condition of the piece, is amazing. Making our way along the length of the historic tapestry, whilst listening to the story portrayed by the trillions of stitches, was a fascinating experience.
For those who have not had, and may not have, the chance to visit Bayeux, allow me to take you through the Midlife Crisis Odyssey Digest version of this epic, ahem, yarn.
Edward and Harold
Harold sails (and rows) to France
Harold gets abducted
Harold swears his allegiance
Harold returns to England
Harold does the dirty
The Normans sail for England
The death of Harold
Ok so I may have left out a few of the finer details, but you get the gist.
Being able to ‘read’ a near-1000 year old story on an original near-1000 year old, 70 metre long rolled-out embroidered book was truly a chance to step back in time. I certainly learned a lot, and the moral of the story of Harold’s adventures, and his ultimate demise, is clear. It has likely been told to generations of children since 1066, to ensure they do not follow Harold’s example and choose the wrong path in life. Despite its age, I think the important lesson taught by the Bayeux Tapestry is still relevant even to this day: always remember to wear your pants, as you never know when you might be abducted by an aristocratic French bandit.
Find out more about the Bayeux Tapestry here
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