Early in February, we left Paris by bus
for the Normandy coast,
to see the famous tapestry, that ancient,
woven tale of the Normans and their invasion,
the battle shock caught
in women’s threads, the tapestry
once brought out each year at the Cathedral,
now enshrined behind glass
in the Bayeux museum.
We walked slowly along its length
in this darkened room set aside for the tapestry,
murmuring anew at its history,
the panels and embroidery that yet reveal
the passion of the battle,
dead bodies litter the border of this tapestry.
Later, we wandered along the River Aure,
the canals past the water trestle,
the old stone house where Balzac once wrote,
appreciating the green of another spring,
wondering anew why we have wars
that mar the turn of seasons,
grateful for those who stitched long ago.
|Canals at Bayeux, France (Camp 2004)|
The Bayeux Tapestry shows 50 scenes that led up to the Battle of Hastings in 1066 (the Norman Conquest). Made of embroidered cloth, what remains of the tapestry measures 224 feet long x 1.6 feet high. No one is quite sure who commissioned the tapestry, nor who made it. Since the Battle of Hastings was fought October 14, 1066, it seemed appropriate to write about it in the month of October.
I’m assuming that women made this tapestry, though nowhere did I find this confirmed. The sewers, using wool yarn (outline stitch and fill-in), completed the tapestry about 1070 in England (11th Century), though it has been preserved in Bayeux since about the 1470s.
I found it interesting that the tapestry documents the first known picture of Halley’s Comet. Such handworks also are studied closely for clues about daily life and beliefs at that time, for the borders show mythical animals, farm workers, as well as battle and court scenes (note the English are shown fighting on foot, while the Normans were on horseback).
During the French Revolution, the venerable tapestry, all 224 feet long, was repurposed to cover wagons, rescued by a Bayeux lawyer and hidden. Later the tapestry traveled to Paris where government officials battled over where it should rest. Finally, the tapestry came home to Bayeux.
At the little gift shop, I purchased a book that replicates the tapestry; in class, we opened up the book and some 15 students held up portions around the room to show the amazing length and scope of this fabulous tapestry.