Bayeux

Bessin

Bayeux was the first town to be captured by the Allies, on D-Day itself. Apparently there was little or no fighting, and consequently little war damage.


Bayeux Cathedral

Bayeux is considered by some sources to have been the most Scandanavian town in Normandie during its early history.

In 1105, it was devastated by fire.

Notre-Dame cathedral is contemporary with the abbeys in Caen. It was started in 1066, and consecrated in 1077, and survived the fire of 1105.. The first bishop was Odon, the half-brother of William the Conqueror.


The Bayeux Tapestry is wrongly referred to as 'tapestry' - it is actually an embroidery in wool, on a linen background. It is 70 meters long and 50 cms high. It is largely intact, except for a bit at the end which has gone missing. In French, it is commonly referred to as the Telle du Conquest or Toile de la Conquête (‘toile’ means ‘linen’).

The original archbishop was Odon, half-brother of William the Conqueror. It was him who is now considered to have commissioned the Bayeux Tapestry - it was produced in Kent or Winchester. During the 18. century it had come to be attributed the Queen Mathilde.

For 400 years it was placed in the cathedral, surviving the fire of 1105. It escaped the dangers posed by protestants and revolutionaries. During the Second World War, it was hidden underground. It is now housed in an old seminary, which goes under the name of Centre Guillaume-le-Conquerant.

The Bayeux Tapestry is one of the most important pictorial works surviving from the middle ages, and certainly the most important from the eleventh century.

Some have suggested that it was hung around the nave of Bayeux cathedral on feast days, but it doesn't seem to have made for that specific purpose since it is not long enough to reach completely around the nave.

During the French Revolution, it was hauled out to cover a wagon-load of ammunition being sent to the northern front where the Republican French were being attacked by Monarchist enemies. A young lawyer of Bayeux pulled the tapestry from the wagon and replaced it with a oiled and waterproof cloth much better suited for the purpose. He carried the tapestry home, and hid it in his attic, where it remained for the next thirty years.

When it was brought out, it was turned over to the bishop of Bayeux, who placed it in the bishop's palace. It has remained there, except for a short time when the Nazis took it to Paris for scientific examination.

The bishop's palace is now a museum in which the tapestry is on permanent display and viewed by thousands of visitors a year.

The first half of the Tapestry depict the adventures of Harold Godwinson, who was wrecked in Ponthieu in 1064 and was ransomed from the count of Ponthieu by William, duke of Normandy (1046-1087). Its portrayal of these events is entirely from the Norman point of view and serves as a justification of William's invasion and conquest of England in the Autumn of 1066. Harold is portrayed as a usurper who foreswore his sacred oath to support William as the successor to Edward the Confessor, king of England.

The second half shows William's preparations for the invasion of England, the decisive battle of Hastings and ends with the retreat of the defeated English. The last part, about 7 or 8 meters, of the Tapestry is incomplete, and its account may have continued to the point at which William was crowed king at Westminster Abbey, near London. Since this was apparently the place pictured in the first panel, such a conclusion would had a significant symmetry. The entire work would then have commenced with old King Edward seated in state at Westminister and would have concluded with the new King William seated in state at the same place.

The upper and lower borders are mostly simply decoration, but sometimes show scenes that may be comments upon or clarifications of the story unfolding in the middle section. Some of these scenes can be identified as being from the Bible or Aesop's Fables, but the sources of others are unknown and the significance of the scenes obscure at best.

As an example, the panel that portrays Harold and his men eating and drinking in an upper room while waiting for a fair wind to the Continent. The Norman account of these events claims that King Edward had told Harold to go to Norman and announce to Duke William that the childless Edward wanted William to succeed him as king of England. Harold, however was not only the greatest noble on England but was also ambitious. It was not difficult for his followers to convince him not to reveal King Edward's will to Duke William, to bide his time, and - as soon as Edward was dead - to seize the royal treasury at Winchester and have himself crowned king.

There is nothing in the human figures or in the text to suggest that this was what was going on, but a small picture in the lower border clearly suggests that this was the case. The picture is that of an ungainly bird sitting in a tree under which an animal (a leopard judging by its spots) is lying. They are looking at each other with their mouths open, and there is some object in the air between them. It doesn't take a genius to recognize the scene.

The Fox and the Crow

A Fox once saw a Crow fly off with a piece of cheese in its beak and settle on a branch of a tree. "That's for me, as I am a Fox," said Master Reynard, and he walked up to the foot of the tree. "Good-day, Mistress Crow," he cried. "How well you are looking to-day: how glossy your feathers; how bright your eye. I feel sure your voice must surpass that of other birds, just as your figure does; let me hear but one song from you that I may greet you as the Queen of Birds." The Crow lifted up her head and began to caw her best, but the moment she opened her mouth the piece of cheese fell to the ground, only to be snapped up by Master Fox. "That will do," said he. "That was all I wanted. In exchange for your cheese I will give you a piece of advice for the future.

"Do not trust flatterers."

Although the tapestry portrays a leopard in place of a fox, the moral is the same and the reason for pointing to this particular fable at this particular place is quite clear. Harold's vanity would lead him to try to be what he was not and, as a consequence, to lose everything he held dear.

Normandie

Brian