The main reason I wanted to come to Bayeux was for the Bayeux Tapestry. There are lots of places in France where you can commence a World War 2 tour of Normandy (i.e., Caen, Paris, etc.), but none of them has the Bayeux Tapestry. It’s a 229-foot depiction of William the Conqueror’s invasion of England. It was made during William’s lifetime, probably commissioned by his half-brother Odo, which makes it roughly 945 years old. It is remarkable that this fabric record, embroidered in typically two-dimensional medieval images, even survived.
It was being used during the French Revolution to cover goods in a wagon, and survived World War 2 in the basement of the Louvre. It is now ensconced again in Bayeux in its own museum. The entire tapestry is on display (in an archival, climate-controlled case, of course).
This tapestry is incredible. You walk the length of the tapestry while listening to your audio guide, the narrator of which is clearly obsessed with the thing and keeps making statements like, “As you can see, this depiction is perfect” and so forth. It starts with Harold Godwinson coming to Normandy to tell William that Harold’s uncle, King Edward, has chosen William to succeed him to the throne of England. Harold tries to pull a fast one by taking the throne for himself, and hilarity ensues. Well, maybe not hilarity — more like a full-scale invasion of England, all depicted in the tapestry from building the boats to carrying the livestock onboard to sailing the channel.
It also has some rather gruesome but bloodless battle scenes of the Battle of Hastings. Fun fact: clerics were allowed to carry maces and bludgeon their enemies in battle but were not allowed to draw blood. Somehow this seems more violent. Harold’s death is depicted as well. Pictures are not allowed of the tapestry, but I snapped a couple of shots of some reproductions in the gift shop to give you an idea. Yes, everyone looks like they’re wearing pajamas, and the images do not have the kind of perspective we are used to seeing. But this well-preserved an example of medieval tapestry and art is fascinating. It also shows Haley’s Comet, which made an appearance in 1066.