The Bayeux Tapestry in beautiful Bayeux, Normandy

As photography is not permitted, this is a picture of a photo of the tapestry.

The first thing to know about the Bayeux Tapestry is that it isn't really a tapestry at all because the pictures aren't woven. Instead, the scenes recounting William of Normandy's conquest of England at the Battle of Hastings are embroidered on eight strips of fine linen that have been stitched together to form a work that is an amazing 230 feet (70 meters) long. The ten different colors of woolen yarn that were used to tell the tale are remarkably well preserved considering that nine centuries have passed since the tapestry was made.

Even though the primary purpose of the tapestry, which is probably from the County of Kent, could mistakenly be thought to glorify William's victory over Harold Godwinson, it actually illustrates the religious concept that perjury following an oath results in disastrous consequences.

A display in the museum. Woad, madder and weld were used to produce the vegetable-based dyes.

With its abundance of pictures (626 characters, 202 horses, 41 ships and 37 buildings) the tapestry provides a unique insight into life in the 11th century. By studying the scenes, which were made by using a combination of stem, chain, split and satin stitches, it's possible to learn a great deal about the clothing, weapons used in battle, horse riding, ship building, cooking and hunting. For example, one scene shows the loading of William's ships with the supplies necessary for battle: helmets, lances, coats of mail, wines in skins, and an assortment of barrels and bags. From a historical point of view, it's like looking at a series of photographs documenting life in the 11th century.

Bayeux Tapestry Museum
13 Rue de Nesmond
14400 Bayeux

A reproduction of a scene in the Bayeux Tapestry in the gift shop

Comments

  1. The Bayeux Tapestry and museum are incredible -- definitely one of my favorite tourist sites in France, and even my kids would agree!

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  2. Clever kids! - I could have spent hours studying the tapestry but we made the mistake of going to the museum on Sunday morning along with everybody else. The flow of people in line kept pushing us forward while I was trying to figure out the meaning of some of the smaller figures because they were rather bawdy and not mentioned by the audio guide. It reminded me of parts of the Canterbury Tales. My guess is that they added a bit of bawdiness, like the expressions on the faces of the male horses when they were looking at the females, to keep the people entertained while they were taught a lesson in morality. Reading about life in the 11th century is one thing but seeing a "picture" of it was fascinating.

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  3. Nice posting. I'm currently reading a biography of Hadrian and in it there is a similar story about the Trajan's Column in Rome and the story it tells. It too is fascinating for the information it provides about a time lost to us, especially in pictures.

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  4. Joseph, Sounds like an interesting biography. I remember walking near Hadrian's wall in England and trying to imagine what it must have been like for a Roman soldier to have been posted in that "savage" land so far from Rome. Thanks for mentioning Trajan's Column. I just goggled it so that I could see a photo. The only problem with using a column instead of a tapestry to tell a story is that it would be rather difficult to see the bit at the very top, especially since it's 29 meters tall! The frieze is remarkably detailed.

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  5. Fascinating stuff, as ever Mary Kay. From an hour there I made this short video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SQB7qfI6XbE which is mainly about the Cathedral, with a little section about the 'tapestry' at the end.

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  6. Tony, Thanks for including the link for your YouTube video. It was a real treat especially because we only made a quick trip to Bayeux to see the tapestry and didn't get to explore the town as much as we would have liked. It was surprising to see the sunshine - I didn't know that it ever came out in Normandy! ;-)

    I wonder if they're recently discovered two more colors in the Bayeux tapestry because the book that I bought only mentioned 8 colors, like your video, but one of the displays in the museum mentioned 10 colors. Due to the discrepancy, I was confused if I should say 8 or 10 in my post. I decided to go with 10 because the display gave the names of the colors and explained how they were made using the 3 vegetable dyes. I'll have to remember to ask the next time that I'm in Bayeux.

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