It seems that for as long as I can remember, I’ve been hearing about the Bayeux Tapestry. Not surprising really, since it was made about 1077. That’s nearly a thousand years ago. And it’s still hanging!
It’s never been on my bucket list. I could have lived out my life quite happily without ever having seen it but when I was in that part of the world, it would have been churlish to pass up the opportunity.
The 70-m long piece of embroidery comprising 58 panels graphically depicts the Battle of Hastings in 1066. I had it in my head that it would be one ginormous wall hanging. I’ve no idea where I got that from – but I was wrong.
The sign said no photos but I was too engrossed in the narration coming through my headphones to take any anyway. If you’re interested, you can see it all close-up, online.
This listed UNESCO Memory of the World commemorating events in the Norman Conquest of England is quite spectacular not least because it has survived, intact, for so long. The spellings suggest that it was stitched in England.
If you need a history refresher:
Battle of Hastings, (Oct. 14, 1066) Battle that ended in the defeat of Harold II of England by William, duke of Normandy, and established the Normans as rulers of England. On his deathbed, Edward the Confessor had granted the English throne to Harold, earl of Wessex, despite an earlier promise to make William his heir. William crossed to England from Normandy with a skilled army of 4,000–7,000 men, landing at Pevensey in Sussex and moving eastward along the coast to Hastings. Harold met the Norman invaders with an army of 7,000 men, many of whom were exhausted from the forced march south to meet William following Harold’s victory at the battle of Stamford Bridge three weeks earlier. The English were defeated after a day-long battle in which Harold was killed. After the battle, the Norman duke moved his army to London and was crowned William I on December 25.
Bayeux’s Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Bayeux, originally built in Norman-Romanesque style and later extended in Gothic style, was consecrated in 1077. It’s thought to have been the original home of the tapestry where William’s half-brother Odo of Bayeux most likely put it on display. It’s home to the light and sound show Rendez-vous à la Cathédrale in July/August, and William’s Cathedral in December/January, when the tapestry digitally returns to its original home.
It’s a stunning house of worship – the crypt is particularly moving.
The town, nestled on the bank of the Aure River, has a medieval centre with cobbled streets and half-timbered houses. Replete with seventeenth- and eighteenth-century villas and townhouses, it’s a little like stepping back in time.
The Medieval Festival has been running on the first weekend of July for the last 30 years or so, attracting tens of thousands of visitors. And every October for the last 25 years, freedom of the press has been celebrated during the Prix Bayeux-Calvados-Normandie for War Correspondents. I’m raging that I hadn’t done my homework and that we missed the War Reporters Memorial Garden:
This space, unique in Europe, pays tribute to the journalists killed in the exercise of their profession since 1944. Each year during the Prix Bayeux for War Correspondents a new stone is unveiled, engraved with the names of the journalists who have most recently put their lives in peril to open a window on the world and its conflicts. This landscaped promenade, created in partnership with Reporters Without Borders, is marked by 27 white memorial stones naming over 2,000 journalists killed throughout the world.
We also missed two notable walks. One runs for about 2.5 km around the old town, marked with bronze studs in the ground and complemented by 23 information panels. The second is a 4 km footpath that runs along the river. If there’s a next time I’ll know.
French writer, Honoré de Balzac, spent time in Bayeux back in 1822, something I’d never have known had we not parked in a car park opposite Hotel de Toulouse Lautrec with a plaque on the wall telling me so. The weeds suggest that the hotel is not longer a hotel and the red plaque on the door mentions Ancien Combattants (Veterans) and UNC.
Union Nationale des Combattants was the largest right-wing veterans’ association in interwar France. It campaigned for the improvement of veterans’ pensions and for the involvement of ex-servicemen in government.
I’m left wondering if Churchill ever spent time in Hotel Churchill.
Bayeux is full of curiosities. Some of which I could make sense of, like the poppy shop. But others defeated me – like the Irish shop. Why? I read their website and still, I ask, why?
As one of the first towns liberated by the Allies in June 1944, Bayeux is a stopping-off point and base camp for those visiting the Normandy beaches that featured in the D-Day landings – but that’s another blog.