The Origins of the Bayeux Tapestry
Welcome to the first post on Threads to the Past, my blog about mysteries of the Bayeux Tapestry. This post is devoted to the Tapestry itself, where it came from and the possible commissioners. This seemed a very good place to start this blog, at the beginning. Firstly, unlike its description, it is an embroidery as I am sure most of you have realised. I have no idea why it was mistakenly called a tapestry and frankly, I don’t think it is necessary to go delving into that one, however the Bayeux Embroidery doesn’t have quite the same ring to it as the Bayeux Tapestry, probably because we are so used to it being called that. A tapestry is an entirely different thing altogether from a tapestry which is an image woven into the material rather than embroidered upon a piece of material.
|The Bayeux Cathedral|
The tapestry is a long piece, around 70 metres long (230ft) with woollen threads embroidering the linen background. The width of the embroidery is around 0.5 metres (1.6ft). Around 50 scenes decorate it with inscriptions written above some of images in Latin. There have been later restorations to the embroidery and in 1724 a backing cloth made of linen was sewn on to it to perhaps protect its fragility. Later, numerals were to be written on the back in black ink to numerate each scene, obviously by someone who was studying it and wanted to create some order to it.
Housed in the beautiful city of Bayeux with its gothic Cathedral at its centre, it is known by its signs as simply the ‘Tapisserie’ and also in English. It is kept in a 17thc building that was converted into a museum in the early ’80’s. Confined carefully inside a glass casing, cautiously illuminated, it stretches out around the narrow corridor and plays out like the scenes from a cartoon. This amazing piece of history has survived the passage of more than 900 years not without some damage, but most of it is entirely original (Bridgeford 2004).
Its first factual reference was in 1476 when it was amongst the inventory of the Bayeux Cathedral (Wilson 1985). The fact that it has remained so well preserved since around 1070 is in my opinion a miracle. How many others of this type on such a grand scale can there be? None to my knowledge unless anyone can put me right. It has even survived the 1562 sacking of the Huguenots when they stormed through the cathedral where it was believed to have been stored, burning and smashing most of the items listed in the inventory of 1476. Due to the swift thinking of the clergy, they managed to secrete some of the items away after a tip off and thus the beautiful masterpiece survived. It also managed to survive the Second World War when the Nazi’s took the tapestry to study it, believing it to be a great monument to Germanic domination rather than to French national history (Brown 2012).
So how did this embroidery that describes an English/Norman event find its way to Bayeux? How did it survive all these years and who commissioned it to be made and whose fingers created it? What are the stories depicted upon it and who were the players?
These are all questions I intend to explore in this blog. Excited? I am.