The Bayeux Tapestry is a masterpiece of the 11th century which evokes the conquest of England by William the Conqueror over a length of nearly 70 m. It is now carefully displayed in the eponymous museum, where the public can come and contemplate it in great detail, and marvel at the precious and unique testimony of the medieval period. If it is called a tapestry, it is actually an embroidery of woolen threads on linen canvas, the exact origin of which is not known, but which was probably commissioned by the bishop of Odon to decorate his new cathedral in Bayeux in 1077. Although the Bayeux Tapestry has been endangered many times during its long history, it has managed to survive and continues to arouse our curiosity and fascinate us. The work has been classified as a historical monument since 1840 and has been listed in the Memory of the World register by UNESCO since 2007.
What does the Bayeux Tapestry refer to?
The Bayeux Tapestry is not only one of the most remarkable relics of Romanesque textile art, it also tells an important part of the history of France and England. The characters, animals, monuments, symbols and other inscriptions revealed by the coloured threads lead the public into the heart of a great medieval epic.
The story of the tapestry begins in 1064, when Edward the Confessor, then King of England, asks his brother-in-law Harold Godwinson to go to Normandy in order to propose to William, his younger cousin, his succession to the throne of England. If we can clearly see on the cloth the ships that go to the Normandy coast to inform the Duke of Normandy, it is important to know that upon Edward's death, it is Harold who is crowned king instead of William. On hearing the news, William crosses the Channel, determined to get back what is due to him.
As you contemplate the Tapestry, the moment is revealed when, in September 1066, the ships leave the coasts of the Duchy of Normandy to reach Sussex. No less than seven thousand men and two thousand horses then made their way to Hastings, where a decisive battle was fought on 14 October between the army of William the Conqueror and the Anglo-Saxon troops. The Tapestry recounts the long rides, the duels, the great violence and the many deaths, which can be seen in particular on the lower edge of the work. Then comes the decisive moment when Harold receives an arrow in the eye, announcing his death and the flight of the Anglo-Saxon troops, in total chaos. It is on these last scenes that the Bayeux Tapestry ends. But for the sake of history, it is interesting to know that the Duke of Normandy, after a great resistance from the English, will eventually be crowned King of England on December 25, 1066 in Westminster Abbey
A visit for everyone, and several things to remember
Visitors to the Bayeux Tapestry Museum go there for the pleasure of contemplating at length this ancestral work, which tells the story of a major military epic, but which can also be interpreted as a spiritual work evoking the punishment of perjury. The details and colours are revealed by lighting appropriate for good conservation and focused on the artwork. It is placed in a dark space to optimize the contemplation. But the museum can be visited in three stages, since after having examined the tapestry from top to bottom, there is a permanent exhibition on the secrets of its creation, as well as the historical context and the Anglo-Norman kingdom of the time. On the second floor, a short film shows real scenes from the re-enactment of the Battle of Hastings. The various historical elements evoked by the Bayeux Tapestry are shown
A visit to the Bayeux Tapestry Museum is a moment to be experienced with friends and family, with an audio guide available in 16 languages, and a version for children. Visually impaired visitors also have access to 3D relief scenes on the first floor.
To encourage people to visit Bayeux, the tapestry can now be viewed online, with an image quality that is simply exceptional! And to take care of this old lady, a restoration is planned for autumn 2024. Dusting and stabilisation of structural alterations will enable the Tapestry to retain all its splendour. Work will be carried out in parallel to create a new museum, scheduled to open in 2026!